The headline is never going to be made into a song, but for bloggers, plugins play a kind of indispensable music and we spend a bit of time looking for new and exciting ones, perhaps as much as gamers spend looking for new games that will give the old Nindendo new life.
Some plugins are utilitarian, providing backup and stopping spam. Some are decorative, offering a better way of displaying illustrations. And some are business oriented, giving an easy to take the “old” blog to mobile devices.
Here are some that I install on every blog:
FancyBox for WordPress
When you place an illustration into an article on your blog, you want to make it fit nicely into the flow. This generally makes it quite a bit smaller that it would normally be. With FancyBox, the viewer is able to click on the photo and expand it to the original size of the photo, up to full screen. This is especially nice for charts and graphs that must be viewed larger to be appreciated.
It has quite a bit of customization available, including the border, margin width and color, zoom speed, animation type, close button position, overlay color and opacity. The options are available under the settings menu within the control panel.
FancyBox also will allow users to toggle between multiple illustrations within a blog post.
Everyone knows the rapidly growing importance of mobile devices. WPtouch automatically transforms your WordPress blog into an iPhone application-style theme that can be viewed from iPhone, iPod touch, Android, Palm Pre, Samsung touch and BlackBerry Storm/Torch mobile devices.
The admin panel allows you to customize many aspects of its appearance, and deliver a fast, user-friendly and stylish version of your site to touch-screen mobile users. These options also show up in the settings menu.
Not everything transfers perfectly to the mobile devices. It won’t translate numbered lists, for example, showing them instead as bulleted lists. But it’s difficult to complain about a few shortcomings from a free plugin. (WPTouch offers a pay plugin as well, with quite a bit more flexibility. I haven’t been moved to try it.) This plugin does take quite a bit with it to mobile, however, including options for social sharing.
Online Backup for WordPress
This is one of several options for backing up your blog. If you create a regular website, you’re uploading it from your computer, so everything is both on your computer and online. If for some reason the site goes down, you still have everything on your computer. Not so with a blog — it’s all created and formatted on line. So you absolutedly need to back it up regularly.
This particular plugin requires that you create an account (free) at Backup Technology. This is a little bit of extra work (one time) but provides a backup online. It also shoots out a backup to your email on a regular frequency (you choose), and if you use a service such as gmail, that’s an online backup as well, so your data are backed up in two places.
You absolutedly need analytics, whether now or later, so get it started right away. It will take just a few minutes to set up a Google Analytics account (free) and a few more to install Analyticator. Then it’s running. Whether you start to use it now — or a year from now — it’ll be silently and effortlessly collecting all kinds of data.
And I’ll bet that once you got it running, you’ll want to take a peek now and then . . . .
WP Captcha-Free blocks automated comment spam without resorting to Captchas. It does so by validating a hash based on time (and some other parameters) using AJAX when the form is posted. So now your know. Comments posted via automated means will not have a hash or will have an expired hash and will be rejected.
Unlike using a captcha, this does not place any burden on the commenter.
Akismet comes preloaded with all WordPress blogs and it used to be a no-brainer because it was free for all users. It’s still free for personal blogs, but last year took on a cost of $5 a month for business blogs. Both will do the job — and you’ll want that job done. After your blog has been up for a while, the “scrapers” will come along and inundate you with comment spam.
Contact Form 7
For lots of reasons, you don’t want to have your bare-naked email address hanging out on any website or blog. But you do want people to get in touch easily.
Most blogs have a menu item called “contact,” or “contact us,” and you will, too. That can include address and location and phone number, but it also should include an email contact.
That’s what Contact Form 7 is for. It takes a little more thought that most of the other plugins discussed here, but it’s not difficult. The default setting for a contact form asks for a name, an email address and a subject, just like in email. Then the rest of the page is a place for the message. You can ask for more information if you want, but in general, I don’t know why you would.
If you want users to identify better what they want, you can put in radio buttons labled with certain questions or topics.
You can have the message go to two email addresses at the same time if you want to forward one to home or one to your phone.
Well, this is just a bare start with plugins that I would recommend you use. There are many others and as you start blogging regularly, you’ll probably want to investigate some of them as well.