I seem to spend a lot of time talking about the best WordPress plugins for blogs, particular people who are just starting out. So, to save me some jaw ache, it’s time I made a proper list.
If you’re in the early stages of starting a travel blog, you may want to check out my related post:
There, I talk about the 10 most important things you need to focus on when starting a blog including choosing the right platform, selecting a name, getting your social media sorted, deciding on your niche and figuring out your purpose.
If you’ve already been through that process but you’re trying to wade through the thousands of WordPress plugins on offer, you’re in the right place. Through years of trial and error here’s what I’ve found to be the…
15 Best WordPress Plugins for Blogs
A quick word about Wordpress
Before you read this article, make sure that you’re using WordPress.org (self-hosted) for your blog not WordPress.com.
If you’re using WordPress.com, then the added extras you can add to your blog are called widgets, not plugins, and are not covered by this post.
If you want to understand more about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, this article is helpful.
Ok, now we’re really ready to get into the best WordPress plugins for blogs…
If you only install one plugin on your blog, make it Yoast. When we hit publish we all secretly (or not so secretly) dream that our articles will go viral. However, the truth is that writing and posting is only a small part of the job. What you actually need is distribution (i.e. getting your blog posts in front of readers). And, in the travel blogging world, that means promotion through social media sites (more on that below) and search engines.
It can be very difficult in a saturated market to get your content at the top of Google’s search results but it can happen – with the help of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). I’ve spent a very long time looking into this ever evolving topic. As a new blogger, or just someone who’s looking to be better at SEO than they are now, I’d say quit all the homework and start with Yoast.
Sitting at the bottom of each post (in your behind the scenes version of your blog), Yoast guides you through the things you need to do to optimise your post for search engines: choosing a keyword, checking the density (how many times you’ve mentioned your keyword), use of the word(s) in titles and images, Yoast is the best SEO walk-through plugin there is.
Since I’ve started using Yoast a whole bunch of my posts have made it onto the coveted Google 1st page including my posts on spending One Day in Pisa, how to Start a Travel Blog, Eating Kobe Beef in Japan and Female Sex Tourism in Africa.
More information: Yoast.
2. Shareaholic – for social media sharing
Besides search, the other major way to bring people to your blog is social media – and if you want a post to go viral, that’s probably your best chance of it happening. Shareaholic is a great plugin for letting people easily share your content on their Facebook pages and Twitter profiles, pin your pics on Pinterest and more. You can either place the sharing buttons at the bottom of your post, have them floating on the side or both.
Pro blogging tips:
- if you do have a floating side bar, make sure it plays nicely with the mobile versions (tablet and phones) of your theme and website. So many times I’ve clicked off a blog because the toolbar floats over the text that I’m trying to read. Frustrating;
- the image above is from my last post (How to Kickstart Fitness Without Sacrificing Happiness) – do you see how the Pinterest shares are already higher than my Facebook shares. In my experience, Facebook shares don’t increase much after the initial publication. Pinterest, on the other hand, does. Hint: Pinterest can bring you more and ongoing traffic than you might imagine.
Oh…were we talking about Pinterest? What? You want to follow me there? If you insist, here’s my Pinterest profile!
More information: Shareaholic.
3. Shareaholic – for related posts
The Shareaholic plugin is good for two jobs. As well as social sharing buttons, you can use Shareaholic for publishing related content at the bottom of your posts. By tempting readers with additional stories from your site, the hope is that you’ll keep your readers on your blog for longer. This has the dual advantage of a) boosting your page views and b) lowering your bounce rate (i.e. the percentage of people who are bouncing off your site without going anywhere other than the first post they hit).
All that said, and feel free to call me a control freak but I don’t rely entirely on a related-posts plugin. The stories that are automatically populated for you by the plugin are generated by an algorithm, so the suggestions aren’t always as good as they can be.
For example, the screenshot above is from the bottom of a post that I recently wrote about the Best Things to do in Washington DC in 3 Days. You’ll see that the related content displayed is for a range of destinations including Italy, Guatemala, Vietnam, the Philippines and Africa. The plugin has largely focused on destination guides that have a specific time period of travel – one day, two weeks etc. However, what’s more likely of interest to people travelling to DC is US or North-America related travel content as well as some tips and articles on travel booking trips.
To cover that, I make sure I write a manual list like the one above to ensure my readers have the content I know is definitely relevant. If they like the additional related content from Shareaholic, all the better.
Pro blogger tips:
- make sure you switch the Shareaholic advertising off. A travel blogger friend recently found viagra ads on her site through Shareaholic. There are other, better ways to make advertising money without alienating your readers; and
- if you’ve got some posts on your site that you don’t want popping up (e.g. if you’ve done advertorials…or those first few posts that might make you cringe a bit – mine are largely from my Around the World chronicles), you can exclude them from the plugin.
More information: Shareaholic.
4. Social Media Widget by Acurax
Social media traffic is a two-way street. Not only do you want people to come from social media sites to your blog, you also want your readers to go over and follow you on those social media sites (because you’ve definitely set up a blog profile on each of the main platforms haven’t you!?).
If you’re not sure why you want or need a blog-branded presence on social media, the easy answer is money and press trips. If you’re getting into blogging to hopefully make some cash or to get invited on free press trips, your clients are going to want to know that you can shout from the rooftops about their hotel, restaurant or tour to your millions of social media follows. Ok, millions is perhaps a bit optimistic as you start out (and even when you’re a bit down the line like me) but you need to get started on growing your numbers.
The solution: Social Media Widget by Acurax. It allows you to display fast links to your social media profiles. If you only have it on one page, make sure it’s your home page.
More information: Social Media Widget by Acurax.
5. Mailchimp for WordPress Lite
Have you started to notice a theme yet? All of the WordPress plugins I’ve mentioned so far are designed for increasing traffic and followers, and this plugin is no exception.
There are tonnes of articles out there about the importance of building your subscriber list and it’s something I wish I’d started a lot sooner.
A strong list of subscribers is potentially more powerful than Google search and social media followers combined. Not convinced? Consider this – for years my main source (90-95%) of traffic was Google search. However, when Google changed its algorithm in 2014 and caused eBay to lose 80% of its search traffic, it also sliced away nearly 50% or my traffic. Ouch. It was a tough time and although I’ve managed to get things back to how they were (with a lot of effort), that huge dip taught me to diversity.
I turned to social media to boost my click-throughs from there, but Facebook is no longer giving the same free ride it used to. These days, less than 16% (on average) of your followers are going to see your posts unless you pay to promote them. Will Pinterest and Twitter go the same way? Who knows. But building a list of subscribers feels more and more essential.
Once you’ve signed up for a free Mailchimp account, you can use the Mailchimp for WordPress Lite plugin to feature a newsletter sign-up box on your blog. You can add it to your front-page side bar, or even insert it into a post…like so.
More information: Mailchimp for WordPress Lite.
6. Pippity – a newsletter pop-up
And if you’re really serious about building your subscriber list, then I’d recommend Pippity.
At first glance you might be put off by this plugin because a) you have to pay for it and b) it’s a pop-up – and doesn’t everyone get pi$$ed off my pop-ups?
But before you dismiss the idea, give it some careful thought. As frustrating as pop-ups can be, they are effective if you implement them right…and Pippity definitely does it right.
Not only does Pippity let you control the timing and location of the pop up so that it appears only once your reader gets to the bottom of a post, you prevent the pop-up from re-appearing for a set amount of time (mine is at 30 days) if someone clicks “no”.
The price for Pippity is $49 for the most basic plugin (that’s the one I have). It’s a one-off cost and I’ve more than doubled my subscribers in just a few months since installing Pippity.
More information: Pippity.
7. Google Analytics
On the subject of traffic, you’re going to want Google Analytics.
The Site Stats functionality that is integrated into WordPress via Jetpack is great for beginners but as soon as you start to get any decent traffic (more than one page view a day – hey, don’t underrate any success), you’re going to want to drill down into your readers’ behaviour.
That’s where Google Analytics comes in. It’s a much more sophisticated way of tracking your website traffic and when you do reach the point of pitching for work, it’s your Google Analytics (or GA) stats that you’re going to be asked for.
As with the Mailchimp service you need a plugin to connect your blog to the Google Analytics service. I use Google Analytics by Yoast.
Pro blogger tip:
Be careful that you don’t install more than one Google Analytics plugin. That will install code on your site twice and lead to a double reporting of your figures. Sounds like a cunning hack for inflating your reader numbers? It’s not – your bounce rate (one of the numbers that clients are definitely tuned into) will drop to practically nothing (around 2%) indicating that something is not right.
I did this once in error and had to wait months before I had a good set of data I could reliably report.
More information: Google Analytics by Yoast.
8. Google XML Sitemaps
This plugin is so yawnsville I’m not sure what to say about it except that it’s a simple, one-off installation that helps search engines better understand the structure and posts on your site and, most importantly, get your website and content indexed and listed in search engines quicker (Google, Yahoo, Bing etc.). Install it, activate it, forget about it.
More information: Google XML Sitemaps.
Another nuts and bolts plugin that runs in the background but qualifies for the “absolute essentials” category is Vaultpress. What does it do? It’s a plugin that backs up your entire site each day. Unless you have another, 100% reliable back-up option (and you can’t always rely on your hosting company), Vaultpress is a good investment (it’s $55 a year) – I had to do a reinstall after a developer screwed up some stuff and I was very grateful to be able to roll back to the previous day’s version of the site.
If you’re still concerned about keeping costs low while you try to make money, consider this: I only have two paid-for plugins on my site. Alongside Pippity, this is the other.
More information: Vaultpress.
10. Contact Form 7
Perhaps not the most riveting of plugins but essential nonetheless, Contact Form 7 gives readers (and more importantly potential new clients) a simple means of contacting you. The form looks clean, it’s simple to install and is reliable (I’ve had no failures and no spam since it was installed).
More information: Contact Form 7.
11. Revive Old Post
Back to some social media tips and tricks, Revive Old Post is a great plugin for automatically re-tweeting your old content. Given the life span of a tweet is seconds, increasing the number of times your content is tweeted is important for promoting your posts. Just add a hashtag like #archives or #oldpost so people know the article is an old one (and they’re not confused into thinking that you’ve quit your South America trip to pop to Italy for the weekend).
Pro blogger tip:
As with Shareaholic, you can exclude certain posts if you don’t want them re-tweeted. I do that for posts like my annual round-up of my travels (people probably no longer care about my Travel Wish List for 2012!)
What was that? You want to follow me on Twitter too…ahhh, you guys are amazing…you’ll find me on Twitter here.
More information: Revive Old Post.
12. Comment Luv
Comment Luv is a plugin that pulls other bloggers’ latest posts into your comments section when they leave a reply on your site. There are two blogger schools of thought when it comes to CommentLuv. On the one hand it encourages comments – something that Google likes and it also gets a conversation started. On the other hand, some bloggers argue that you’re attracting the wrong type of readers – people who are only commenting for self-promotion.
I personally use this plugin because I like comments and I’m as happy to have a chat with fellow bloggers as I am with non-blogging followers. Sure, there are those people who come over and simply write “Follow me”. The plus is that you can choose not to publish those purely spammy comments. On balance, I’m pro Comment Luv. I’ve also gotten traffic when I’ve added a comment on other bloggers’ sites so I think it’s an all-round win.
More information: Comment Luv.
Speaking of spam, Aksimet is one of the free Jetpack WordPress plugins that keeps thousands of spam messages from your door. Install it, keep it installed and keep it updated. Just be aware that not all spam is filtered so you will have to do some manual policing. As a general rule, if there is a link in the comments and it’s not from a blogger, it’s probably spam. The computer generated sentences are also a pretty fun give away – check out the beauty above: “Which is besides like forking over an auto mechanic to correct your automobile.” Quite!
More information: Akismet.
14. Broken Link Checker
You know all those handy links you put into your blog? Well, what happens when one becomes broken because the site you linked to has moved the page or changed the name of the article? In comes Broken Link Checker. Not only does it alert you when a link no longer works, it helps keep in you in Google’s good books – broken links can affect your ranking in search results.
More information: Broken Link Checker.
The flip side of broken link checker is re-direction. Ever written a post then later decided you didn’t like the url, there was a typo in it, or you’ve realised there are better search words to have in the title? Your instinct is to change the name, but you shouldn’t stop there. Once you publish a post, Google starts to index it against the url you published under. If you change that, you need to let Google know to re-direct your traffic to your new url. The redirection plugin handles that for you in a couple of clicks. It’s simple to do and can save you from losing all of the traffic and “google juice” you’ve built up for that post.
More information: Redirection
If you want to take your blogging to the next level, check out Travel Blog Success, an all-encompassing blogging course that will take you through every stage of travel blogging life from setting up to successfully selling yourself, getting on press trip and monetizing your blog. As well as the course, you get access to the forums and a dedicated (otherwise private) Facebook group where some of the biggest blogging names out there (and me!) share tips and trip leads.
Coming soon – a website dedicated to travel blogging
If you want to find out when that website launches, sign-up below. Don’t worry, I’ll only send you stuff related to travel blogging (unless you’ve already signed up to my Indiana Jo newsletter, in which case you’ll get my travel-stuff too).
So, they’re my 15 Best WordPress Plugins for Blogs. Any other recommendations or blogging topics you’d like me to cover? Let me know in the comments below.
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