If you are blogging to promote yourself or your company, then there are two trends you need to be very concerned about…
The speed of your site and social sharing.
For the last two years, search engines like Google have been putting heavy emphasis on these two issues. Plus, web users are abandoning sites that are slow to load, and they are moving towards reading content with high social shares.
But how do you make your site faster? And how do you encourage more shares?
Fortunately, if you use WordPress, then most of the work is done for you. You just simply have to download one of these plugins, tick off some boxes, and be off to a faster site with more shares.
Here are the ten plugins that you ought to use:
Plugin #1: WordPress SEO by Yoast
This plugin has many cool features, e.g, a snippet preview and a page analysis to help you optimize a page’s content, including meta data such as titles, keywords and descriptions:
Other options include:
- Robots meta configuration – Keep single posts or pages out of the index…or entire sections with this simple feature.
- Canonical - This allows you to control the correct canonical on each page, including the homepage, tags, and categories. (This got messy when Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft started supporting a new link element to clean up duplicate URLs on sites.)
- Breadcrumbs – Control which taxonomy to show for each post and control which title to use for each post, page and taxonomy.
- Permalink clean up – You can make sure that links pointing toward you are clean (they don’t end in a weird variable like /2 at the end of them) by directing those weird links away from you.
- XML sitemaps – Using a XSLT stylesheet renders your sitemap readable by humans but also talks to your SEO plugin so that when you noindex a page, it won’t accidentally still end up on your sitemap, which happens when you use a different XML sitemap generator.
- RSS enhancements – Add a piece of content to the beginning and end of your content, which allows you to link back to your blog and the particular blog post…helpful if your content is getting scraped.
- Robots.txt and .htaccess editing – This makes editing the robots.txt and .htaccess easy. You can now do it straight from the plugin’s Files menu.
Plugin #2: HTTP Compression
If a browser supports compression, then a blog using the HTTP Compression plugin will compress pages in gzip format…
…rendering a 60-80% reduction in the size of your pages, which turns into a 3 to 4 times increase in page speed, which is essential if you don’t want to lose visitors.
If you’re not using the latest version of WordPress, you may not be able to use the gzip compression. Test your blog using the simple tool at Is My Blog Working?
If the “Your blog application doesn’t support gzip compression” is showing up, then you probably need to install the latest WordPress version.
By the way, this plugin won’t work if you are using WP Super Cache since it uses compression functionality. Your blog will still work, but WP Super Cache will stop caching new pages.
Plugin #3: WP Super Cache
Another plugin that speeds up your site, especially in the case of a sudden surge of traffic, is the WP Super Cache, which creates static HTML files that are served instead of the heavier PHP scripts in WordPress.
Super Cache helps in two scenarios: when your server is underpowered or when you are experiencing a heavy surge of traffic.
It’s been tested under some extreme examples…and proven to work without a hiccup.
For example, Scott Beale had a page show up on the Digg front page twice, a mention on Slashdot and some major media exposure…with over 200,000 page views in one day:
Scott was using Super Cache and didn’t experience a slowdown in server speed.
Plugin #4: Facebook Comments Box
Comments Box is a social plugin that enables users to comment on your site.
There are two key benefits to using Facebook Comment box for your comments:
- Social relevance – The most relevant comments, comments left by friends, the highest liked comments or active threads are all ordered from top to bottom, basically leveraging the social signals of users.
- Distribution – Using this plugin allows you to spread a discussion onto Facebook. When users keep the “Post to Facebook” box checked, their comments will show up on their Facebook streams, exposing their comments and your blog post (and the link) to their friends.
That last point allows your friends to now comment on the discussion by liking or replying to your comment, which is done directly in Facebook. However, these discussions are all linked and connected back to your site. This perfect social commenting ecosystem is why Raven Tools made the switch to Facebook Comment Box.
Unfortunately, this plugin renders your comments in an iFrame (yes, that means Facebook owns your comments), which search engines will not crawl.
The workaround is to grab the comments from the API…
…and stick them in the body of your page behind the comments box. But that’s a lot of work, so you need to decide if the advantages gained in social sharing are worth the losses in SEO impact.
Plugin #5: WPtouch
More and more people are accessing the Internet via their smart phones. Unfortunately, most websites and blogs are not mobile phone friendly. That means you need to get your site ready for mobile use…or miss out on opportunities to spread your content in a new way.
Fortunately, if you have a WordPress website or blog, adapting it to being mobile is pretty simple due to the WPtouch plugin.
This plugin takes your WordPress blog and turns it into an app-like theme:
The plugin works on iPhones, iPod Touches, Android, Blackberry 0S6 and Palm Pre/Pixi and gives users control to switch between the WPtouch theme or your regular view.
And keep in mind this does not change a bit of code.
The WPtouch Pro gives you more options with theme style, color, 10 languages and even advertising options. Also, the 2.6 version gives you iPad theme support.
Plugin #6: WP-DBManager
Your database can get clunky and cluttered by all the WordPress features…and if you are a blogger who’s been at it for years…then your site will slow down in speed, potentially driving away visitors.
This will only get worse as you add more articles.
Use the WP-DBmanager and you can clean up that database and improve site performance. It will allow you to analyze…
…and then repair, optimize, and back up your files.
You can even set this to work automatically.
But it’s important that you understand the basics of databases. If you don’t, then this plugin will be just too complex for you to use, and I wouldn’t recommend using it. The last thing you want to do is mess something up.
Plugin #7: Yet Another Related Post Plugin
Sometimes visitors may land on your site because they followed a link. And the article they scan may not be of much use to them…
But the articles that you recommended, however, may turn out to be something they are interested in, which they then share.
This is why I use a plugin like the Most Popular post as it widens the net of interest for my readers. But it’s also why you should consider using the Yet Another Related Post Plugin.
In essence, when you write a post, this plugin will scan your archives, find articles that are relevant to that particular post and then display them at the end of your posts.
With this plugin, you’ll get:
- Customized recommendations – The algorithm will look at post titles, tags, categories, content and keywords to determine which other posts should show up at the end of your posts.
- Customize template – You can also control the look of your post.
- Caches – The plugin will store these recommendations in the cache to improve site speed.
- RSS feeds – Recommendations will also show up in your RSS feed.
- Prohibit certain tags and categories – You can also control which page or post doesn’t get recommendations.
While it’s not fully customizable, you can also tweak the recommendation engine to deliver posts that are pretty close to what you prefer. It pretty much lets you customize which posts you want to appear.
Plugin #8: ShareThis
Making your social sharing buttons visible will help you get higher rankings as more people share your content.
With over one million sites using ShareThis (like Mashable and U.S. News), you know you are in good company. Why is it so popular? Because you can install and customize it in just under a minute.
You can also give your visitors the option to share over 50 social networks, including email, and also get real time metrics:
When using ShareThis, make sure you optimize it for speed.
Plugin #9: Simple Ads Manager
A lot of bloggers embed ads on their sites to help monetize their social media, but too many ads can slow down your site speed.
The trick is to find the one or two top performing ads and place them in the best position on your blog.
But how do you figure this out? Simple: just download the Simple Ads Manager plugin. It’s got a great UX to help you manage the position and weights of your ads:
And there are dozens of ways you can customize your ads, including:
- Deliver ads as a block
- Deliver ads in a single page or post
- Deliver ads based on types of pages
- Automatic outputting ads in single post/page if allowed
- Schedule of ads
- Deliver ads based on hits or clicks
You’ll also get plenty of statistics based upon impressions and clicks and a process to accurately detect crawlers and bots.
Plugin #10: Google Analytics for WordPress
You can’t really know how well your blog is actually performing if you don’t track and measure. That’s why analytics are so important…and why I recommend you use the Google Analytics for WordPress plugin.
The installation is super simple, and it uses the asynchronous Google Analytics tracking code so that it doesn’t slow down your website. Plus, the plugin has a lot of other functions such as:
- The code will automatically track your site speed.
- You can track outbound links and all downloads.
- Easily connect your Analytics account with your AdSense account.
- Track metadata like author, post type, logged in users, publication year and tags.
Keep in mind that you can’t run this plugin with another Google Analytics plugin…otherwise the tracking will break.
If you are using WordPress, then you really have no excuse not to be running a fast and social-friendly site. The plugins I suggested above can improve the performance of your site almost overnight with minimal effort. For more of WordPress top plugins, I recommend that you check out WPMU.org’s list.
What WordPress plugins do you recommend for bloggers to speed up their sites and make their sites social-friendly?
P.S. If you are having issues with any of the plugins above, there are affordable premium WordPress services that offer plugins and support.
Update: A better plugin for caching is W3 Total Cache. You should use that plugin instead of WP Super Cache.