It doesn’t matter what the aim of your is blog, whether you set out to become the next person getting rich in only 4 hours per week, want to run the hottest dating column in town, aim to take Arrington’s crown or just want to blog for fun, if you chose for WordPress there are some basics your blog needs.
You need a theme with solid, semantic code, and you will need some plugins to boost your setup. But before we proceed I have to disclaim that there are things I will not use a plugin for, or rely on WP for. Such as backup, I prefer having a cron based automated backup procedure
A Solid Theme
Before you start adding plugins to your setup, you should first consider a solid theme for your site. Of course you can always change your theme afterwards but often this will result in issues with sizes of embedded images, videos and so on. So better prepare yourself and start with a theme and stick with it for a while.
In the last 2 years the WordPress theme market has literally exploded and never have there been that many great themes to chose from. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer to go with a paid theme or with a free theme, as long as your preferred theme is based upon semantical code, you will benefit a great SEO boost. I have had great success with multiple themes in the past and used k2, the first Mimbo theme, Cutline, Thematic, Notesblog just to name a few of the free themes I have worked with in the past and recommend to anyone.
Time to add the most essential plugins to your WordPress installation now.
Akismet is probably the single most important plugin needed for WP bloggers. Akismet still is bundled together with every WordPress download and requires to you have a WordPress.com account in order to retrieve a API key to use the Akismet functionality, which is based on a closed software algorithm.
Personally I have almost always been happy with Akismet as only option although on some, highly linked blogs within the Splashpress Media network, we also use WP-Spamfree as additional measure. Sergej MÃ¼ller’s WP Antispam Bee is another alternative to additionally use together with Akismet.
Google XML Sitemap
The next plugin I will always install is Arne Brachold’s Google XML Sitemap plugin. The plugin does exactly what it says on the tin and adds a Google compliant XML sitemap to your blog.
Arne Brachold’s plugin comes with several configurations options, and although the default settings will be good for the majority of the users, this is one of those times when it’s actually interesting to RTM.
On slower servers, with huge blogs, it is a consideration to limit the number of entries/pages listed in your sitemap as rebuilding the sitemap with every new post can slow down posting considerably.
You can now additionally add your sitemap to Google’s Webmaster Tools as any SEO will advice you, but if you are mainly blogging for fun, Google will check your blog after every notification anyway from now on.
Align RSS Images
Aligned images in feeds are a pet peeve of mine and although there are ways to bypass the standard alignment of most feed readers, I like my images aligned the easy way.
Align RSS Images is one of many plugins offering this functionality and probably the easiest to use: upload/install the plugin, activate it and enjoy looking at your own entries with properly aligned images in your feed from now on.
AntiVirus for WordPress
AntiVirus for WordPress is another plugin from Sergej MÃ¼ller, who’s Antispam Bee plugin we already mentioned above. AntiVirus checks your theme files for malicious code and encrypted code. Most of the time I will only use themes from ‘safe’ sources but because no software will ever be 100% safe, nor should the risk that your server/hosting might be hacked at some point be ignored, I highly recommend to install AntiVirus for WordPress, or one of the other plugins with similar function. Now if your theme files are hacked, you’ll at least be notified of the problem if you run the daily (automated) scan.
Contact Form 7
Contact Form 7 is my preferred contact form for WordPress blogs, especially because it’s easy to tie in with Akismet spam filtering and thus keeps my inbox rather tidy.
Copy the following code to add Akismet filtering to the email sender’s name, email address and URL. The code the same setup used for our BloggingPro contact page.
[code]<p>Your Name (required)<br />
[text* your-name akismet:author] </p>
<p>Your Email (required)<br />
[email* your-email akismet:author_email] </p>
<p>Your Website<br />
[text your-url akismet:author_url]</p>
[text your-subject] </p>
<p>Your Message<br />
[textarea your-message] </p>
Subscribe to comments
Mark Jaquith’s Subscribe to Comments plugin is one of those no-brainers. The only reason why you would consider not implementing ‘Subscribe to Comments’ would be because you think it’s ethically not correct, borders on spamming or maybe because your blog receives hundreds of comments with every entry.
I am a long-term fan of PostRank and first reviewed their product in May 2008 when still called aideRSS. Today the PostRank plugin has become a standard plugin in my WordPress setup as it provides me with quick details about the popularity of entries on social platforms.
Although I would love to see integration of the number of shares on Facebook and if possible even traffic coming via sites such as Stumbleupon, PostRank for WordPress provides me with valuable data and helps me to quickly analyse and understand what blog entries are popular and which content to focus more on.
If you are serious about blogging and want to learn from your own entries, PostRank is a must have plugin.
WP Super Cache
Another no-brainer plugin for every blog is Donncha O Caoimh’s WP Super Cache. WP Super Cache will store cached files of your pages and take the load of your server in case of traffic spikes. In certain hosting environments WP Super Cache might not work 100%, if this is your case consider W3 Total Cache as an alternative.
There are many statistic packages available on the market but for a majority of WordPress users WordPress.com stats is the main statistics plugin they’ll need, unless at some point you plan to sell your own advertising and need to provide numbers about uniques visitors because WP.com stats only tracks page views, not uniques.
If not, WordPress.com allows you to analyse the traffic to every post, look at the history of posts, tracks both incoming and outgoing links and so much more. On co-authored blogs this stats package is great for authors to see how their posts do and even compare against the traffic generated by other authors, provided you are happy with pageviews and don’t need to track uniques.
Just like with Akismet, you require a WordPress.com account and API key for WordPress.com stats.
[pull]If it ain’t in my twitter stream, it don’t exist[/pull]
If you’re a blogger, chances that you also have a Twitter account are rather large. Of course you love to promote yourself all over the place and discovered that you can share your wisdom, and links to your entries, easily via Twitter. The microblogging platform is also perfect to connect with your audience, and some will even go as far as saying ‘If it ain’t in my twitter stream, it don’t exist’. That would be me or him.
With Fiddy P’s WP Twitip-ID plugin it is easy to add the option to commenters to leave a link to their Twitter profile, like we did here at BloggingPro.
Note that you will have to add a small bit of code to the template of your comments.
Addendum: Twitip-ID is no longer maintained and has now been replaced by Twitterlink Comments as James correctly mentions in the comments. Personally I still use Twitip-ID on my sites though as it IMHO is cleaner and easier to implement/customise.
If you use FeedBurner to serve your blog’s feed, the Feedburner Feedsmith plugin is probably the easiest way to redirect your subscribers to the Feedburner plugin.
The Excerpt Reloaded
Sometimes when tweaking or customising a theme, I want more options to configure the display options of the excerpt on the main page or in archive pages. Although with the advent of the post thumbnail since WP 2.9, the often annoying task of uploading different formats of thumbnails has been made easier, I often still want/need more customisation freedom. And what else would I use for that than good ol’ excerpt reloaded?
If like me, at times you think you’re funny, or just want to expand on something, with a footnote, it would not be hard to do this manually with some HTML knowledge but things can be done easier. The WP Footnotes plugin takes the HTML out of your footnotes and all you have to do is ((write your footnote in between double brackets)). WP Footnotes also has several styling options.
Future Dashboard Widget
Here on BloggingPro we use a slightly tweaked version of Janmi’s Future Dashboard Widget. This widget displays all scheduled, upcoming posts within the WordPress dashboard. We have tweaked our widget to allow every author to see when upcoming posts are scheduled and not restrict this to admins only.
WP Table Reloaded
Some users are hardcore or like living on the edge and what better way to do so than play in a live environment with the database of your blog. If that’s what you love, WP Table Reloaded is your best friend and our guide for automated database and files backup your second best friend.
No Twitter Tools or All In One SEO Pack?
I have left both plugins, and their alternatives, out of this post because I think that a strong theme with great semantics goes a far way when it comes to SEO. Actually, although installed on several blogs, I can not remember when the last was one of our authors used the All in One SEO Pack and nevertheless our sites still rank very well. Same applies to smaller niches sites I have built with WordPress.
There also are several ways to synchronise with, push your entries to Twitter and a plugin is not needed to do so. Sorry but no love for any ‘Twitter Post’ plugin in this entry.
Author: Franky Branckaute
Franky is CEO, Editor and Muppet on Duty at Splashpress Media and sporadically blogs about the professional online life at his personal iFranky blog, when he isn’t annoying his colleagues or blog software evangelists. He also is regular Guest Lecturer on all things New Media and ‘blogging’. Stalk him on Twitter or on Google+