Here is my list of ten essential WordPress plugins for any writer’s blog, which I’ve divided into three groups; QA, Extra functionality, Security and utilities.
Plugins to QA your content
Feel the need for speed…with caching
A slow website will lose visitors. A cache speeds up your site by delivering saved copies of your content, instead of WordPress generating a new page for every visit. The only downside of caching is visitors may not see the latest version of a page for your cache timeout, unless they press CTRL+F5. A fifteen minute cache timeout is standard, so unless you’re running a news agency that’s not really an issue.
WordPress has no caching by default so I chose WP Super Cache as it’s free, very popular and was highly rated in this detailed analysis. I also have a related plugin ‘clear all cache’ which provides a button to empty the cache so you know everything is bang up to date, which can be useful for fault diagnosis.
Know if you have broken links
A broken link plugin will do periodic scans then alert you by email and the WordPress dashboard so you can fix and republish your content. They don’t always get it right, and if you manually check the link it may actually be fine, but the occasional false positive is better than having broken links go unnoticed for months. The suitably named Broken Link Checker performs this task for my site.
Know if your site ever goes down!
My hosting company ran a script which kept taking my site offline because a WordPress admin script ran on too long. After a couple of incidents I found the answer (increase the memory allocated to WordPress and set a global limit on script execution time). If the downtime happens again I’ll know because the uptime check visits my site every 5 minutes and emails me if it becomes unavailable, and mails again when it comes back up. I can look at the history of these checks and know if my site has gone offline, suggesting a problem with the hosting or suggesting my site may have been hacked.
Uptimerobot.com gives you 50 free checks. I have one check looking at the homepage, a second at a blog page. Searching for a specific word or phrase on the page is the most reliable method. You can login to your account directly or via a the uptime robot monitor plugin, allowing you to view the data on the WordPress admin console. Also the free checks don’t have to point at sites you own – so if the broken link checker tells you an external site down frequently, you could have uptimerobot.com check the link, and decide if you want to remove your link.
Professionally I have also used Pingdom.com and found the UI and support to be very good, but they don’t seem to be offering any free options currently.
Plugins that add functionality
Add nice share buttons
I use Simple Share Buttons plugin which works well enough for me, although I did need to tweak my stylesheets to prevent the logos displaying underlined.
Control your site’s look on social media
I tried a few Open Graph plugins which either didn’t work or were intermittent and eventually settled on WebZunder open graph plugin.
Use a contact form rather than an email address
I found Contact form 7 was easy to set up and has a suitable range of options.
Security and utility plugins for WordPress
Move your wp-admin page
Also before you change your login page remove the WordPress ‘meta’ menu from your site. You can’t edit this menu and it contains a link to the login page, so if it’s life it may display your freshly hidden login location to all and sundry! Hide my WP seems to be get checked for compatibility with the WordPress core updates more frequently than most, and I found it easy to set up.
Build a wall or put up a fence
Hook up some visitor stats
Many blogs use Google analytics, which is a free and a very mature analytic tool, but relies on your site issuing a tracking cookie to the user. According to EU law you should ask visitors before setting any cookie, and browsers might display off-putting security warnings to the user. That’s not really an issue for a large well known organisation, but for a small site doing without cookies for everything except taking payments or user login is desirable. For this reason I use the statistics plugin New Stats Press in preference to Google Analytics. It displays some useful information and has a nice graphical layout.
And recommendation number 9½ is a separate plugin to block what’s called spam referrers – they visit your site hoping you’ll see their visit, then make the return visit to a site containing hostile code, or perhaps even display a list of ‘top referrers’ on your homepage, even though no-one does that anymore… it’s just so 1990s. Spam referrers can be simply ignored but they mess up your stats so I use WP referrer spam blacklist to limit such traffic. These can only be partially successful as spam referrers keep changing their IP addresses and some will always find a way through.
Schedule regular backups
If you’re not updating your site often and have a local copy of all your content safe from hackers, I would consider having only a weekly backup. If you do think you’ve been hacked get some advice from forums before restoring from backup, as the code that compromised your site may have been resting there for some time.