One of the primary reasons I love WordPress is the availability of literally hundreds of customizable plugins that enhance your blogging features and make presentation of your content interesting. Although I have a colophon page that gives you detailed information on my blog, I thought writing about few plugins that I have come to love.
Akismet and Spam Karma: These should be the first plugins that you install after you have set up your WordPress installation. It will save you lot of hassles and cause less spam stress. Akismet is now built in the WordPress 2.1. These plugins help protect your blog from comment and trackback spam. And trust me, there is plenty of it out there. Even if your best friend won’t comment on your posts, spammers are bound to.
Installation is easy although Akismet requires a API key that you can get for free when you register at WordPress.com. Spam Karma has a host of options that you can modify to adjust the severity of protection against spam.
A supporting plugin is the Auto-Close Comments which closes comments on your posts after 21 days of publication. Spammers are known to target old posts since these are indexed by Google and bloggers are less likely to notice spam. But use it with caution because you never know when one of your old posts might get its fifteen minutes of fame.
Feedburner Feed Replacement If you aren’t using Feedburner yet to manage your feeds, go now and set it up first. Go…I’ll wait. This plugin will then direct all feed traffic to Feedburner and you get to retain your ‘mydomain.com/feed’ address. Using Feedburner gives you a better and comprehensive look at your feed subscriptions i.e what RSS aggregators are readers using and what posts are they clicking through to, etc. And what’s more, their advertising program lets you insert ads in your feed in a relatively less intrusive manner.
Google Sitemaps: Admit it or not, unless you write intensely personal posts, you love random people discovering your blog through Google searches. So shouldn’t you make it easier for Google to index your content? Google Sitemaps creates a Google sitemap of your WordPress blog. It is like that motorcycle ad – install it, set it up, and forget it.
WP-Contact Form: Apart from comments, most bloggers like to hear from their readers via email. Or you want some contact information on your blog without exposing your email id. WP-Contact Form, one of the easiest plugins to set up inserts a contact form with basic fields that sends any comments to your email. A heightened security contact form is available at Dagon Design but I had problems with the captcha code not showing up on certain occasions.
aLinks: This is the most recent plugin that I have discovered and I have always been looking for something that this plugin does so well. Suppose you like to mention a certain blog or a website often in your posts but hate inserting the URL each time. With this plugin you can set it up such that each time you mention the keyword (e.g. ‘Ash’ to refer to Ash’s blog), the plugin automatically inserts the URL. You can set up many other keywords that you use often and save time as you write your posts.
In addition, you can also set up certain keywords like books, music, etc so that they link to related searches on Amazon. And you can specify your Associates ID in the settings so you earn a referral if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. There is a similar module you can install for Wikipedia links.
Adsense-Deluxe: If you are obsessed with optimizing your Adsense earnings on your blog, you must know that in-post ad blocks have the highest click-thrus and professional bloggers swear by these hacks. With this plugin, you can create customized blocks of code that you can insert within your posts by adding just one word of code. See the ad-code that I have inserted on your left. Also, this plugin works just as effectively for Yahoo Publisher ads. You can modify the code a little to wrap text around the ad block or to align it left or right of your text by inserting a<div>tag.
However don’t overdo the ad boxes and add at the most, one block per post (or two if the post is large). I have already received complaints that the intermittent ad blocks within posts are annoying. But then there are always browser workarounds for the astute reader, right?
Now for the pure time-pass plugins,
Popularity Contest: This is yet another new plugin I discovered via Uber Desi. The plugin uses the statistics/user behavior i.e. comments, trackbacks, views for each post to rank your posts. The other posts are ranked in accordance with the most popular post in percentage terms. You can also choose to display the list of Most Popular Posts on your blog [see sidebar and scroll down] or even popular posts in each category. You’ll love this plugin if you are a stat whore or love analyzing what your visitors are reading.
On a related note, Related Posts plugin keeps your readers on your blog by offering them a list of related posts based on keywords in the post they are currently reading. This is also helpful to the readers who might need additional information if they like your writing.
WP Movie Ratings: I was looking for a way to display the movies I have seen in recent times with a quick rating system and without actually reviewing them in depth. I found it first via Kottke’s blog. This plugin lets me share my quick opinions on a movie and even write a one-line review. All you need is an IMDB link to list the movie and rate the movie by selecting the appropriate rating from a drop-down box. Clean and elegant. You can select the number of movies you want to display and even number of stars[5 or 10] in your rating system.
Of course, there are tons of other WordPress Plugins that you may like. It also depends what theme you are using. Let me know what plugins do you swear by. Maybe I have not heard of it yet.