Five useful WordPress plugins

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I use WordPress to power my website. One of the benefits is the number of plugins available. They’re simple to install and can improve your blog’s user-friendliness and functionality.

Here are five WordPress plugins I find useful.

#1 Subscribe to comments

The ‘‘ plugin is one of the most important plugins you can install for WordPress. It adds a check-box below the comment form on each post, and when checked by a commenter, they then receive an email update as soon as someone adds a new comment after theirs.

This helps the conversation flow, which is what blogging is all about. People are genuinely interested in knowing what people think of their specific comments, and this WordPress plugin saves them having to return to your blog on the off-chance there’s a response.

One thing you have to decide about, is whether to leave the box checked, or un-checked. I believe it should be un-checked, letting the commenter opt-in, rather than having them receive un-wanted emails without realising what it is. Some other people wonder what the best route is, such as , and .

Installation: Download the Plugin to your computer, upload the ‘subscribe-to-comments.php’ file to your wp-content/plugins/ directory, activate it in the WordPress administration panel, and you’re done.

#2 Similar posts

The ‘‘ plugin displays a set number of related blog articles at the foot of every blog post. This encourages readers to move around your site more, and improves internal linking. Not to be confused with the ‘related posts’ plugin, this one is easier to set up, requiring very little knowledge of web coding.

Installation: A little more complex than the ‘subscribe to comments’ instructions above, and you can view full details on the plugin’s web page.

#3 Google sitemap generator

The ‘‘ plugin for WordPress automatically generates a new XML sitemap every time your content is updated.

To speed up the page indexing process, Google allows webmasters to upload a specially formatted XML file, called a ‘sitemap’, containing links to all the pages in a given website, and the frequency of their updates. This not only increases the chances of a new, or updated page being picked up quickly, but also optimizes the indexing job. Instead of a random crawl, web spiders can now be sent directly to your new content.

Installation: Download the Zip-Archive and extract all files into your wp-content/plugins/ directory. Go into your WordPress administration page, click on Plugins, and activate it. After that you will have a new menu point called “Sitemap” under the “Options” menu. Click once on “Rebuild Sitemap” to create your sitemap for the first time. There are a few settings you should change, and Chris mentions these in the link below.

#4 Contact forms

The ‘‘ plugin adds a contact form to your WordPress blog. When people have the option to contact you in a variety of ways, you’re making it more likely that they’ll contact you in the first place.

On I have a contact form up top, followed by my email address for those who prefer to contact me that way. I also show my mailing address here in Scotland, letting people know that there’s a physical address behind my online presence. This helps to .

Installation: Download and extract the plugin using its default directory. Upload the plugin directory to the wp-content/plugins/ directory. Activate the plugin through the ‘plugins’ menu in WordPress. Optionally, check cforms.css for individual styling of your contact forms.

#5 MyAvatars

The ‘‘ plugin puts a face to the name of your commenters, displaying a user-chosen image beside each comment left. I’ve talked before about how to , and the MyAvatars plugin is a great way to help.

Installation: Download the file myavatars.zip, extract and copy it in your wp-content/plugins/ directory, making sure to preserve the folder name. Activate the plugin through the ‘plugins’ menu in WordPress. Once at this stage, you need to tell WordPress where to show commenter avatars, and you can read more about this simple step on the plugin web page.

What are your favourite WordPress plugins?

It’s easy to go overboard with plugins, slowing site load times, but for me it’s about keeping the design as clean and uncluttered as possible. Those I choose are unobtrusive, small in file size, and improve the blog for search engines and readers.

75 responses

  1. I agree about the subscribe to comments. It’s essential if you want to foster conversation on your blog. Plus, readers love seeing that the author has responded to a comment. I made the default checked, though you bring up a good point about receiving unwanted emails. I checked it because I’ve visited blogs many times, forgotten to check the box and wondered why no one else commented on the post :( What do others think?

    I’m glad you brought up the point about similar vs. related posts. I thought they were the same thing. Similar posts sounds better.

    Oh, didn’t know about a Google specific site map plugin. I was told DD Site Map Generator was good, too.

    For the contact form, I’m using Enhanced Contact Form and I like it. Easy to use and it does the job. I suppose most contact plugins are that way.

    I’m definitely going to install that avatar one. I think it adds personality to the comments (sorry for the pun!).

    Definitely too easy to go overboard and it’s a good thing to bring up for us newbies. I think I like the Top Commentators plugin, too, and I know Ultimate Tag Warrior is said to be essential for SEO purposes (I didn’t include the links because it’s really easy to use Google to find these and I didn’t want to get caught for link spamming!).

    Thanks for another awesome article, David!

  2. Fantastic post! I’ve always been a fan of the Google site map plugin and would also recommend the “Share This” plugin by Alex King. Any post on your site can easily be shared with a friend on many of the social bookmarking sites such as Del.icio.us, Digg and Facebook to name a few.

    Interested? Check it out here!

  3. David,
    Thanks for the mention! I appreciate that. I’m also a fan of the Ultimate Tag Warrior Plugin. There is a ton of functionality. By the way, your site has one of the best site designs I’ve seen – nice work!

    Thanks,
    Pat

  4. Hi David
    It was you who kindly pointed me in the direction of the “subscribe to comments” plugin which is great.

    Will now get my hands on Smart Archives and DB Backup as recommended by Tammy.

    For anyone who needs a gallery, I highly recommend NextGen – I’ve been using it on more than one blog and it’s the business.

  5. Use three of them apart from the avatar and contact one. Contact plugin is going on my todo list, along with avatar.

    DoFollow
    SEO Title Tag – Matt Cutts of Google recommends this one!
    Peter’s Custom Anti-Spam

    Jamie

  6. Nice list ^_^
    I’m planning to use MyAvatars, to give more human feeling to posted comments.

    My essential wordpress plugins are the same as yours concerning Google Sitemap and Subscribe.
    I’ll add Simple Tagging to that list, because i think it’s a complete plugin, who will not only help in defining Tags, but also defining Related Posts, and customizing Meta Infomations such as Keywords.

    Feedburner Replacement Plugin is important too i think :)

  7. Hi David,

    Excellent! You are pointing out what I’m looking for, esp. the avatar plugin… Thank you so much.

    BTW, remember that you’ve suggested me to allow readers to comment at the foot of every post? I’ve tried to find a suitable plugin but in vain so far. Won’t you mind recommending one? Thanks in advance!!

  8. A great list, and some other great suggestions in the comments. I’m not a big fan of CAPTCHA, but I have been looking into reCAPTCHA: http://recaptcha.net/

    It uses those CAPTCHA words to help digitize books for the Internet Archive. If you are going to have CAPTCHA, may as well make it useful right?

  9. Useful post, very handy! I recently integrated cforms into my blog; I had a lot of teething problems with it (namely, it wouldn’t go into a sidebar regardless of how you called it), so I had to do a bit of hacking. Looks alright, though :)

    The sitemap plugin is fantastic. Do you use any of the SEO plugins David?

    I had wondered how bloggers pulled MyBlogLog avatars into comments – now I know!

  10. I’ll go with your 1, 2, 3 but I’d have to have the WP Database plugin V2 which has saved my blogs twice so far, and a joint place for Bad Behavior, and the TanTan Noodles simple spam filter, which has reduced my Akismet spam moderation queue from 300 comments a day to 3.

  11. I have never com across the “Subcribe to comments” plugin before but it looks like a winner. I am also a big fan of the Google Sitemaps plugin. Two more I like are WP-Chunk (http://www.village-idiot.org/archives/2006/06/29/wp-chunk/) which stops long urls in comments doing bad things to your design, and Postalicious (http://neop.gbtopia.com/?p=108) which won’t be to some people’s tastes but i like a lot. It grabs links from your delicious bookmarks, based on predefined tags you give it, and creates a post a day for your links.

  12. David, thanks for starting this conversation! So many people are recommending some great plugins! What do you use for backing up your database? I’ve installed WP Database Backup, but it can be difficult to use (gotta set permissions on the folder via FTP every time I use it).

    Oh, and I have to add the Edit Comments plugin to the list! As a reader it’s soooo nice when people have this one their blog so I don’t have to have a silly typo in their comments for all eternity!

  13. Lauren,

    I previously used both the ‘top commentators’ and ‘UTW’ plugins, but decided to remove them. The former isn’t something I want to show, in case it causes more ‘very nice post’ or ‘I agree’ comments. The latter required quite a bit of work ‘tagging’ my posts, and I’ve read that WordPress 2.3 is going to include something very similar as standard.

    Why WordPress don’t use ‘subscribe to comments’ as a standard is beyond me. Akismet, the spam filter, comes as standard, which is why I haven’t mentioned it here.

    As for backing up my database, I use my host provider for this, saving my files every week or two with the click of a button. No biggie.

    One issue with the ‘edit comments’ plugin is that it doesn’t work for readers using Internet Explorer, but I agree, it’s very useful.

    Mike,

    Thanks for the recommendation. I use Feedburner’s FeedFlares for ‘Digg’, ‘StumbleUpon’ etc. Perhaps it’s not as effective?

    Tammy,

    I think I might’ve given ‘smart archives’ a shot recently, but couldn’t actually get it to work. Maybe I’m thinking of another archives plugin. It’s a great idea though, and I should really spend more time at that.

    Pat,

    Thanks for the compliment! My pleasure linking to your article, and good of you to comment here.

    Napolux,

    I’m really liking your latest version, with the nofollow on MyBlogLog. It makes perfect sense, even if MyBlogLog would’nt have approved. ;)

    Jennifer,

    The gallery might come in useful for me and my portfolio, so thanks for mentioning it. I know that Tara at Graphic Design Blog uses a similar plugin for her portfolio – if not the same one.

    Jamie,

    I had the SEO title tag working before my redesign, and now it won’t work correctly. So I set about researching the issue, and read an interesting article that describes how it can be useful NOT to use it. The idea hinges on your site name, and whether it contains useful keywords. For instance, I have ‘David Airey :: Graphic Designer’ appearing before the article title. If my article title is something like ‘3000th commenter deserves a mention’ then it makes sense to want this appearing after my site title, and not the other way around.

    What’s your take on the matter?

    B2,

    FeedBurner’s replacement plugin is one I’ve been using since I switched my feed to FeedBurner. I’ve read that it can perhaps double your subscriber numbers?

    I definitely agree that the MyAvatars plugin adds a more human touch to comments, not to mention visual interest.

    Shine,

    I don’t think you’ll find a plugin that adds a link at the foot of each post. It’s something you need to code, in both the ‘index.php’ and ‘single.php’ pages on WordPress. There’s a little line of code at the top of each page, just under your post title, that signifies the link to comment. What you want to do is copy and paste this just after the ‘content’ section of your code, so that the link appears in both places (best not to remove the top link until you suss the bottom).

    Lorissa,

    At one time I might’ve had a captcha on this site, but did away with it quite quickly. It’s one more step that a commenter must take before they can leave their thoughts, and the easier you make it for people, the better.

    I find that Akismet does the hard work where spam is concerned, although I do use a captcha on my contact page form.

    Daravuth,

    You’re very welcome.

    Damien,

    As I mention above, I did use the SEO title tag, but it doesn’t work for some reason on my new design. Even so, it could actually be better to leave it in my circumstances.

    I know a lot of people are writing blog posts about the ‘all in one SEO plugin’, but to be honest, I’m wary of using a plugin that tells robots not to follow entire categories and archives. If you click on any of my category pages, you’ll notice I use post excerpts to avoid duplicate content and to make browsing my categories much easier. This doesn’t prevent duplicate content off the homepage and previous pages, but I think that Google is well aware that blogs show duplicate content in this way. At least I’d like to think so. How about you?

    Martin,

    Thanks very much for your recommendations. I just typed a little about the ‘all in one SEO plugin’, but perhaps it’s working great for you and many others?

    Chris,

    Interesting stuff about reducing your Akismet spam count! I find it a chore trawling through Akismet, searching for any legitimate comments that have been caught. I use my web host for database backups, which is handy too.

    Andy,

    The ‘subscribe to comments’ is most certainly a must for all WordPress users. At least for those who have comments enabled. I’ve previously used the delicious bookmarks plugin, way back when I first started, but found that I didn’t want to post link articles with no explanations or commentary. Thanks for your personal recommendations.

    HSO,

    The reason I didn’t include Akismet was because it comes as standard with WordPress downloads. Otherwise I would’ve certainly listed it in the top 5.

  14. Now thats a long comment ;)

    I just had a peek at your categories layout and it seems like a good idea to me. I thought it’d make sense for WordPress to produce excerpts for archive and category pages by default, but I know not everyone does long enough posts to warrant it.

    I think I may have to steal that excerpt idea, for ease of browsing if nothing else! Was it hardcoded into the theme?

  15. I agree the Subscribe to comments-plugin should be default.

    Just like Martin I immediately noticed that you didn’t mention the Feedsmith plugin. I think it’s even more important than Contact Form.

    Also the All-In-One SEO plugin can be a life saver for SEO noobs like me.

    An alternative to Similar Posts could be Related Posts, which is implemented in many templates. Similar Posts is built on Related Posts I think, so they are probably very much alike.

    Another good plugin is Comment Relish, which sends a customised Thank You mail every time you get a comment from a new reader. It is also a great place to mention your RSS feed.

    The DoFollow plugin encourages your readers to comment as they get a little link love each time.

    If you use the “more” function on your blog the Full Text Feed plugin will let your subscribers get the full post instead of the part until the “More” command.

    What Would Seth Godin Do plugin displays a welcome message the first time someone visits your blog. Another way to mention a specific post or feed.

    Ok…I’ll stop now. The headline said 5 essential plugins, so I’d better stop here ;)

  16. Thanks so much for listing these! I’ve been looking at various plugins and trying to figure out which ones I want or need, and it helps to have recommendations. In particular I’m glad to have the suggestion for the comment subscription plugin.

  17. Thanks for the link!
    I used to use a gravatar plugin, but I found that only a few commenters had gravatars so I didn’t implement it when I changed themes. I also used Brian’s Threaded comments, but I thought it was causing layout problems. In the end I think it was the quicktags plugin (which was extremely handy) that wasn’t ending a div and causing layout problems, so I could go back to Brian’s, which was pretty cool. Spam Karma 2 is great for avoiding spam.

  18. Lets see I use all of the plugins you mentioned except MyAvatar. I’ll try it.

    I also like to add the following 5 plugins Popularity contest, coComments, twitter tools, Exec-PHP, and you forgot DoFollow!

  19. Subscribe to comments is great.
    Thanks for the link to the new cforms II plugin. Looks great, easily configured, and loads of options.

  20. I’ve only started to dabble in WP, but one plugin that has come quite in handy is Pluginstaller, available at henning.imaginemore.de/pluginstaller – what it does is lets you install plugins without having to go into your plugins folder.

    Sephyroth

  21. I use the SEO title tag plugin, like someone else mentioned. I like it because it allows me to write 2 slight variations of the same title; one for the reader and one for the search engine.

    Other than that, I love the backend plugins which aren’t so noticeable on a blog, e.g. Top Level Categories (Takes the /category/ out of URLs), and head-meta (Let’s me put code into the of individual pages. Extremely useful!)

  22. Brain Threaded Comments also useful to reply to each comment. And My top recommendation is Landing Site 1.3 which will help you greet the reader who come from search engine. :)

  23. Damien,

    My last comment is probably the longest in my history blogging. All your great replies warranted it though. Showing the excerpts in category pages is quite easy, using just a simple line of code. I’m thinking of doing the same with my homepage, but not sure how well it’d go down with you all.

    Scot,

    I had thought about a top 10, even a top 20, but I think it’s important not to go overboard, so whist it wasn’t so easy, I kept it to five. I do use a few others though.

    Yvonne,

    The faces in comments certainly adds a more human touch. I’m very grateful for that one.

    Dennis,

    Likewise, I’m an SEO amateur, although the content on my site picks up a nice amount of Google traffic. Hopefully it’ll expand greatly after the next Google update.

    I’d thought about the comment relish plugin, but I’m worried that if I install it now, I’ll send out over 3,500 emails to all the past commenters on my site. Do you know if that’d happen? I don’t want to go crashing my site.

    I’ll have to look into the Seth Godin plugin. Thanks very much for mentioning that. I use DoFollow, but don’t advertise it much, so people don’t just comment for the sake of a linkback. Off to check out the FeedBurner chicklet alternative now, cheers buddy!

    Heather,

    Glad to offer up some advice. I’m sure you’ll find that one in particular to be of great use.

    Kristarella,

    You’re not the first to mention ‘Brian’s threaded comments’. I’ll have to check it out. Oh, and you’re very welcome for the link.

    Brian,

    Good of you to recommend those. I don’t use CoComment, but probably should, considering I don’t always see the ‘subscribe to comments’ option on blogs I comment on. Twitter isn’t something I use either, and I’m not sure how much it’d improve things for me, which is kind of why I haven’t bothered. How much use is it for you?

    As for DoFollow, I left it out on purpose, as (like I said above) I don’t like to advertise the fact it’s installed here too much. It is a great one though.

    John,

    There are a fantastic number of options with the cforms plugin! I was surprised, and it’s come in very handy.

    Sephyroth,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure how much less hassle your recommendation would be. Maybe it’s because I’ve installed so many different plugins in the past, but it’s really not much effort for me to use the plugin folder.

    Michael,

    Your reason for using the SEO title tag plugin sounds very similar to just changing the post slug when writing your blog post. That’s what I do when I want search engines to see something different from my readers.

    I’ll have to take a look at the head-meta, which sounds great, although I have a feeling I’m using it already (I lose track sometimes).

    Ken,

    Hmmmm, nice idea, with the ‘landing site’ plugin. Good of you to stop in.

  24. It was my pleasure David.

    About the Comment Relish. It doesn’t send an email to your current commentators. Only to the “new” ones. Meaning that those commenting on your site for the first time after the plugin is installed will get one.

  25. David,

    Thanks for the mention of my post on the Google Sitemap Generator gotcha! I am not really sure if others have had the same problem but I definitely got burned by that one…

    As for my top 5 plug-ins…I would have to go with:

    Akismet
    Subscribe to Comments
    WordPress Database Backup
    WP-ContactForm: Akismet Edition
    Code Snippet (I post code snippets from time to time — a real timesaver)

    You have some great content here…should keep me busy for hours!

  26. One that I use on redsil is the Ultimate Category Excluder. Very useful for adding additional content to your blog, that you do not wish to appear on the front page; I, for example, use it for my Snippet Posts, and the Biographies section on my new blog.

    BTW, the site is looking great. Love the menus and the new cleaner header; and the posts in the middle column–very clean, very professional. Great job.

  27. David,

    Thanks very much for stopping by my site and commenting. I’ll definitely check out the CoComment plugin as you suggested.

    Great place you’ve got here … I’ve been learning a lot from reading your articles, so just want you to know how much it’s appreciated.

    Bye for now,

    Dale

  28. Dennis, thanks for the info. I was wary of using comment relish but I reckon I’ll give it a go.

    Chris, you’re very welcome. It was quite some time after I installed the plugin that I realised to change those options. Not that I know just how much SEO benefit was gained after the switch, but it makes sense. I wasn’t aware that there was an Akismet contact form. That’s something to look into. Thanks for listing your top WordPress plugins.

    John, I’ve not come across your pick before, so it’s much appreciated. Thanks, also, for the kind words on my new design.

    Dale, again, thanks for the compliment. Always great to know that what I’m publishing here is of some use to others.

    Jeremy, good luck on your switch to WordPress. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

  29. Hello David, a couple of them made my list. I have a related post on my blog outlining some of my favorites. Nice blog you have here. I do believe this is my first visit.

  30. My thoughts are that your blog has some problems. I simply cannot read this article. Every time I click on the link to read the rest of it from the front page or the post title, I end up on this comments page which is really disconcerting because of its width and bizarre layout style.

    I was really interested in your article.

    Oh, well.

  31. I agree on leaving the comment notification unchecked at first. It should be an opt-in thing. Otherwise, some people will subscribe accidentally, and it’s quite annoying getting emails that you didn’t want in the first place.

    MyAvatars looks great, but for some reason, I just can’t get it to work for me. Do you know if it works off the name or email address that I enter? :?

  32. Aaron,

    Thanks for your WP-Cache recommendation. I’ve been meaning to get that one installed for a while, and the responses here have given me a kick.

    Michael,

    Lauren’s right (thanks Lauren). You need to be logged into MBL for your avatar to show. It should even work after re-starting your computer due to the cookie it’ll place on your machine. At least it does with me.

  33. Michael, your machine/browser may be set up to not allow cookies. If using FF on Windows, go to Tools > Options, Privacy Tab and make sure the box is checked for Accept Cookies.

    Hehe (not laughing at you, Michael), MyBlogLog has this to say: “Every once in a while, we do see a few accounts that just won’t match up. This is a bug, and we’ve not yet found out why it’s occurring.

    For most people, the reason their avatar doesn’t show up is because their email/web address doesn’t match our records, but if you are doing that correctly, then it’s likely that you are an unfortunate member of the bug club. We’re very sorry if that is the case and we are working to fix it.”

    Though in my experience, I’ve changed the email and the website I’m using when I leave comments (different than what I signed up at MBL with) because I recently started my own blog. I did add my blog to MBL acct, but not the email. I’ve not had problems with my avatar showing up. Other than the above, I don’t know what to tell you! :(

  34. I definitely visit sites more often when I subscribe to the comments. It’s a shame I haven’t installed this plug-in on my site yet. Off I go! ….

  35. Good job getting your avatar to show, Michael. Quite a unique one you’ve got there too. I’ve often wondered whether it’s better to show my photo or logo in my avatar.

    Lauren,

    Thanks for helping Michael out with that. It’s great when readers interact with eachother without blog author intervention.

    Dave,

    Glad to provide some useful info. Cheers for visiting.

  36. Lauren – Thanks for all the advice! It could well have been. I haven’t changed anything, but it’s definitely showing up now. Yay! (And I laughed at the “bug club” quote as well. :lol: )

    David – Thanks. I haven’t actually got any photographs of myself online, so the logo was the obvious choice for me. (I don’t think there has ever been a nice photograph of me for one thing… ;) )

  37. Ive decided after thinking about your claim of the gravator plugin that I may try it. First step I think would be to sign up with them.

    Thanks for challenging my thoughts :)

  38. This is my first time on this blog and let me start by saying I’m very impressed. It’s really great!

    I’ve found this blog entry extremely useful. The “subscribe to comments” is an excellent addition to my new blog. I installed it straight away.

    Thanks for your help! :)

  39. I’ve tried all your plugins and none of them have worked. That’s no reflection on you or the developers, but do they all work with Word Press 2.2.2?

    The subscribe to comments was already there.

    Sob! Sob!

  40. subcorpus,

    No problem at all.

    Javed,

    I’m gonna try the highlight author comments plugin from your list. I’ve been meaning to add the code myself, but this could save a little time?

  41. These all look like good plugins. I need to look into the Similar Posts and MyAvatars ones. I think that I already have the others, although I still need to create the content for my contact page.

  42. I just started my new design business site on WP using the Thesis theme. My favorite plugin so far is Contact Form 7. I searched high and low for a good contact form app and this one is it. You can see it in action on my Hire and Contact pages. So easy to customize my mom could do it.

  43. hey, what plug-in (if any) are you using for your portfolio section? I’m looking for decent plug-ins to help set up an easily manageable portfolio, but would quite like to use the blog as a blog. and the plug-ins which I like the look of use the blog as the portfolio, leaving you without a blog…

    or are you just using standard pages?

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