In Part One of my post series on WordPress for Writers, I covered some of the most basic steps you should take and settings you should change right after installing the WordPress platform.
In Part Two of this series, I'll share some WordPress plugins that I consider must-haves -- ones you might want to set up well before launching your new website or blog publicly. I'll also cover a few plugins that might be of particular interest to writers.
Basic Plugins for All Websites
Below are several key plugins that all WordPress site owners should consider installing as soon as they set up their sites. These deal mostly with basic site management, security, and search engine optimization (SEO).
I recently wrote a post about WordPress anti-spam plugins where I highly recommended Anti-Spam by Webvitaly. After having a number of problems with other popular anti-spam plugins, this one came out a winner.
The best part? Once you install it, it's hands-off. You don't need to worry about complicated settings. You don't even have to clear all the automated spam from your spam folder anymore, and automated spam makes up the vast majority of spam your WordPress site will receive.
As an example, before installing it, I was getting anywhere from 200 - 400 spam messages daily on my larger sites using another popular spam plugin. After installing, they stopped immediately. Now, at most, I get three or four spam messages a week -- or at least ones I would personally consider spam and delete.
Speed Up Your Website
Even if your brand new site loads quickly now, that could change as your site grows. Why not be ahead of the game and make sure your site is well-optimized from the get-go?
Here are two of my personal favorite plugins for speeding up your WordPress site:
1. WP Smush.it
This plugin will automatically reduce image file sizes, and without compromising image quality. This is a great, simple plugin to have whether you run an image-heavy site (like a travel writer might) or you simply like to use introductory images for your blog posts.
This is a plugin that will load cached versions of your pages to speed up load times. Basically, it takes a snapshot of your page and shows that to the next visitor instead of loading everything all over again with every visit.
It also allows you to minify your CSS files (basically making the file sizes of your stylesheets smaller so they load faster), and take advantage of browser caching (how a visitor's browser refreshes its own cached version of your files) and gzip compression. There are just enough settings to give you flexibility, but it's far less complicated than some of the bigger caching plugins available.
All Indie Writers is somewhat complex on the back-end due to the different major platforms that have to play nice with each other. I found larger caching plugins to be more of a hassle than anything else, whereas this plugin got the job done and helped to dramatically increase page speed (though there is always more work to do).
That's not to say you shouldn't consider other options. You'll need to test caching plugins to find the one that works best with your setup.
If you don't want to directly publish your email address on your website or blog, another option is to add a contact form. If this appeals to you, I recommend the Contact Form 7 plugin.
If you're a freelance writer, you could also customize the form for prospects to use it to request quotes (with fields for their project details, deadline, budget, and any other information you might want).
WordPress is a popular platform for Web publishing, and spammers and hackers know that. That's why they often target WordPress installations. They can identify sites run on the platform because of common file names and locations.
One page frequently targeted is your wp-login.php page -- where you log into your site. These pages can be hit with brute force attacks on a fairly regular basis. This is when someone (usually an automated bot) continually tries to log into your site until it cracks a password.
One of the best things you can do is make sure you choose a unique login name (never "admin") and a secure password. You can also help to prevent this by moving your login page away from its typical address, although that is beyond the scope of this post.
Because of the risk of brute force attacks, it's a good idea to have at least a basic security plugin installed that limits the number of login attempts. For example, if someone gets the password for an account wrong five times, they're locked out for a few hours until they can try again.
I prefer a plugin called Limit Login Attempts for this.
However, I noticed today that there are some recent issues with the plugin, with some users reporting that it looks like visitors are able to get around the limitations. It's overdue for an update from the developer, so my hope is that they will take care of any bugs and push an update soon. I'd say not to install it right away, but keep an eye on it. Or you can look for other plugins that do something similar in the WordPress plugin repository. You can also find more complex security plugins there if you want something more advanced.
Sharing / Social Networking
I'm always amazed when I come across a blog with no social media buttons to help readers easily share the content. It's as if the bloggers don't want you to share their material. But you do. Right?
If so, one of the first plugins you should install is a sharing plugin. I've used several which have all worked well on different sites, including:
They're far from the only ones I've used. And most are okay as long as they offer buttons for the social sites you want to target and they aren't so bloated that they slow your site down too much.
Not sure if a plugin is hanging up your site? You can run a scan with the P3 Plugin Performance Profiler plugin from GoDaddy. While this isn't so important that I install it on every site, it's one of the first troubleshooting tools I use when a WordPress site gets wonky.
Search Engine Optimization
If you want to make it easier for search engines to find and rank your content, it's a smart idea to install an SEO plugin on your WordPress website or blog.
This plugin can be particularly important to install early on. Otherwise you might have to go back through all of your old pages and posts to add the meta info you want later. With it installed up front, you can add this information as you create each page and post.
WordPress SEO offers much more than the ability to add meta titles and descriptions though. Here are some important features you should know about and things you should do as soon as you activate the plugin. To get to the settings mentioned, go to the SEO menu that will appear in your left navigation after it's activated.
This plugin will set up your sitemap for you. This helps search engines like Google crawl your site. You can find these settings under the "XML sitemaps" link in the SEO menu. Make sure the box to enable sitemaps is checked. Click the button that says "XML Sitemap" and copy that page's Web address into the sitemaps section of your Google Webmaster Tools account.
Titles & Metas
Next go to your Titles & Metas section under your SEO menu. If you want to add meta keywords, you can do that by checking the box here. Personally, I don't. I only use the titles and descriptions on this site. In the "Sitewide meta settings" I check everything other than the meta keywords option.
Click the Taxonomies tab near the top of the Titles & Metas page. If you don't want your category and other archive pages indexed by search engines (to prevent the indexing of duplicate content), check the "noindex, follow" sections for each archive type such as categories and tags.
Now go to the Permalinks link under your SEO menu. If you want to remove "/category/" from appearing on your WordPress category pages, you can check the first box.
You can also check the third box if you want to shorten the slugs for your posts by removing "stop words." For example, instead of:
Your post address would have the stop words removed and look more like:
It simplifies things and gives you a short permalink. The idea is to keep them short because search engines only pay attention to a limited number of characters in your URLs, and for SEO purposes bloggers often want to push their target keywords into that string instead of filling it with common words like "a," "of," or "the."
If you're concerned about Google Authorship (and you should be), you'll notice that the WordPress SEO plugin added a Google Plus profile field to your profile page. Add your profile information there.
Then go to the "Social" link under your SEO menu. Click the Google+ tab at the top. And select yourself from the dropdown menu to have your profile treated as the author for your site's homepage. If you have a Google+ page for your business, you can add that URL on this page too.
Post / Page Meta Info
When you go to the "edit post" or "edit page" pages, you'll now see a new section below the text editor. It's where you can add your meta title and meta description (the title and description for search engines, which should be descriptive of your page content).
You can also click the tab to see an evaluation of your on-page optimizations -- such as whether or not you used your target keyword phrase in appropriate places.
That is far from all you can do with the WordPress SEO plugin, but it gives you somewhere to start. You can visit the official page for the plugin for more detailed information, FAQs, and feature details.
WordPress Plugins for Writers
In addition to the basic WordPress plugins and plugin types mentioned above, I wanted to bring a few specialized plugins to your attention. These are plugins that might be of particular interest to freelance writers, authors, and even content marketers.
- Editorial Calendar -- This plugin makes it easy to schedule future post drafts, view past posts in a calendar layout, and handle scheduling for multi-author blogs.
- InboundWriter -- This plugin can be tied to either a free or paid InboundWriter account. It's a good tool for content marketers, but also for writers in general. The idea is to help you "improve online content for increased reach, engagement and conversions." Basically it helps you tap into hot topics and keywords and tries to help you improve the readability of your content (which is the real perk for writers in general).
- Anthologize -- If you've ever considered turning your old blog posts into a book (from nonfiction to a short story collection), this plugin can help. It lets you group posts by book sections, set up dedication and acknowledgement pages, and export your posts into more of a manuscript format that you can revise or release. This could also be a good tool for releasing short free reports from your old posts. Keep a look out here on the blog. I'll be reviewing this in more depth in a separate upcoming post.
What WordPress plugins are your absolute must-haves? Why? Do you know of any other WordPress plugins specifically for freelance writers and authors? Tell us about them in the comments.