I don’t write many meta-posts, but I was just asked for the forty-seventh time which WordPress plugin I use for this or that.
I know I recently said your blogging platform doesn’t matter, but it’s not that it doesn’t matter at all, just that it’s not the primary driver of success and shouldn’t be the first thing you spend time on.
But still I take pride in my work, and that means attention to detail, and that means customizing the blog for both appearances and utility.
So here are the WordPress plugins I use, and why.
Can’t live without these:
Free comment-spam protection from WordPress. You’ll need a WordPress account but it also works on a self-hosted blog (like mine). I get 30 spam comments per day, and Akismet blocks very nearly all of it.
- Comment Relish
Auto-email (once!) after someone comments for the first time to thank them and encourage dialog. Blogging can be a one-way soap box, which is OK for some people but not for me. This is on the must-have list because I’ve had scores of interactions (both short and in-depth) as a direct result of someone hitting “Reply” to this email.
- Secure WordPress
Alerts you if your WordPress installation is insecure, at least in a few common ways. WordPress is easily hacked!
WP Super Cache(Update: W3 Total Cache)
Automatically caches plain-HTML versions of your pages. This saved me — the times I’m slammed with traffic (usually Hacker News or StumbleUpon) Apache can croak. Really it’s not Apache per se — it’s that WordPress is (famously) inefficient and Apache PHP threads running WordPress each occupy 20M of RAM, so if you have 50 simultaneous connections you’re likely to either run out of memory and crater the server (at worst) or display a “Not available” message (at best). Since installing this plug-in I’ve had no problems with scalability.
All I can do now is hope that I get slammed with even more traffic! :-)
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP)
This generates those “related posts” at the end of each article. A lot of plugins which do this; this one does the best job deciding what “related” means and has good options allowing me to exclude certain types of posts (e.g. announcements).
I used to think this was just a nice-to-have toy, but it turns out to be a big deal. It’s most important for new readers who haven’t seen old posts — especially anything older than the 10-15 posts displayed by your RSS reader when you first subscribe.
I noticed that after adding this plugin there was a significant increase in kind, magnanimous folks Twittering older articles, typically those listed under “related” on the latest post. Not only does it mean folks are more engaged in the blog, they’re spreading the word. Anything that helps spread the word is good!
- WP Greet Box
Generates a message near the top of the page suggesting that you subscribe by RSS or email, tuned to the source of the traffic (e.g. Hacker News, Search, Twitter, Reddit). I don’t know if tuning to traffic source helps, but having the message at all does seem to encourage subscriptions.
Although once someone on Hacker News complained that “Hacker News readers are smart enough to know whether to subscribe or not, so this is insulting.” I would have thought it was just that guy, but his comment was then up-voted 26 times! Lesson? Pleasing a few people is hard, pleasing many is impossible, and pleasing all while also achieving your own self-interest is… also impossible?
Appends link to a person’s latest blog post when they leave a comment. An easy way to promote the blogs of your commentors, which means an easy way to encourage more comments and to say “Thanks for contributing, here’s my way of automatically contributing a little back.”
- Get Recent Comments
Sidebar of latest comments, again to thank/promote.
- No Revisions
Wordpress saves a post revision every time you hit “save.” This enables “revert” but it also fills your database with crap, which in turn slows down the entire site. Not worth it. Anyway I write everything in a text editor (Notepad++) using Sphinx because I can write in plain-text with simple stylistic markup instead of cumbersome HTML tags, and the HTML it generates is plain-Jane so it’s easy to paste into WordPress, touch up, and schedule for posting.
Not even sure if it makes a difference, but…
- Google XML Sitemaps
Creates proper Google sitemap automatically.
- Robots Meta
Automatically create a “robots” meta-tag for search engines.
Conspicuously not a plugin
These aren’t plugins, but they’re WordPress customizations. I did all of these in PHP, linked in the “right” way with hooks and filters. I also use the Thesis WordPress Theme for overall site structure and I used the hooks from that system as well.
- The “Twitter me” button
Appearing at the top and bottom of posts, both on the web and in the RSS feed, this is the Tweetmeme button that millions of other people use. There are plugins for this, but none could place the button in those four spots, none put the button where I wanted it (i.e. outside the main text, not word-wrapped inside), and none could handle the use-case of dealing with imported posts from other blogging software (I used to be on Squarespace).
- Automatic reformatting
I like to use things like em-dashes — the extra-long dashes bracketing this phrase — but it’s easier to type two dashes in a row. On the other hand I want simple quotes, not curly quotes. There are plugins to do things like that, but I wasn’t happy with the options there so I wrote my own filter. This might sound petty and too detailed to be concerned about, but just because these things might not matter to overall success/failure, it doesn’t mean I don’t take pride in making things just so!
And there’s a better reason. HTML on the web I can format with CSS, but HTML in RSS readers I cannot. And worse, usually the CSS for them sucks. So for example, I use <H3> tags for section dividers, but in many RSS readers those aren’t even displayed bold, or the text size is weird. So part of my filter takes all <H3> tags and brackets them on the inside with a <B> tag, but it does this only for the RSS feed. This way my HTML can be simple and styled, but the RSS feed works better in practice.
Hopes this helps some of you. Would you like to see more posts like this — mechanical stuff — or do you come here for the stories and a good kick in the pants? Leave a comment and let me know.