Ah, the joy of WordPress plugins. They’re fantastic! They can make your site way more awesome.
But if you get a bad one, they can also render portions of your site completely useless.
I’ve experimented with plenty of free plugins in my blogging years, and below I’ve listed the ones that are worthwhile — especially for beginners. These are the plugins I have installed on my blogs, and I think they make all of them AWESOME!
Note: The easiest way to install any of these plugins is from your WordPress dashboard. Go to “Plugins” > “Add New” and then perform a search for the exact name of the plugin.
If you only install one plugin, make it this one. It’s actually a whole pack of plugins in one. When you install, it’ll activate some default plugins. You don’t have to activate and configure all of them, but I recommend taking advantage of my favorite Jetpack options. Read about each on the Jetpack “Settings” page (access it from your WordPress admin page after install).
- Contact Form – for users to send you a quick message (email) without leaving your site
- Extra Sidebar Widgets – images, Facebook like box, social media icons…
- Monitor – get an email if your site (God forbid) goes down
- Publicize – automatically share on social media when you publish a new post
- Related Posts – display related posts at the bottom of each post
- Sharing – display social sharing icons at the bottom of each post
- Subscriptions – allow readers to subscribe to new blog posts via email
- WordPress.com Stats – see how many visitors you’re getting and where they’re coming from
*For advanced users only, Custom CSS will allow you to make small tweaks to font colors or styles. I love this plugin, but you DO have to know a little about CSS to use it.
This plugin adds a “Pin It” button when a user hovers over any image on your site. You can customize it so it only shows on images of a certain minimum size, and you can choose if you want the circular or rectangular Pinterest icon.
For more advanced users, this plugin allows you to create font modifiers to override the default fonts on your site. I’m using this plugin to change the font of the site title on this theme!
When you get your blog going, you want to set up a Google Analytics account to grab a detailed picture of your site traffic. This plugin puts the Google Analytics graph on your WordPress Dashboard. I like to use both this AND Jetpack stats to see how their measurements differ. Sometimes one does a better job than the other at identifying and excluding spammy/fake traffic.
5. Mini PopUp (for Facebook)
I must say this first. Do NOT set this up in a way that will be obnoxious to your readers. Obnoxious popups will scare many potential returning readers away.
This plugin allows you to create a popup to encourage readers to like your Facebook page. I have this plugin’s settings configured to ONLY display the popup once a user has visited at least 3 different pages on my site, and it only appears once every 45 days to any particular user (provided that they don’t clear their cookies in the mean time.) I don’t use it on all of my sites, either. (Right now just North to South and Stylish Travel Girl.)
Ever click on a photo on a blog only to be taken to a separate blank browser page with just the image? Yeah, you probably don’t want that. This plugin takes the clickable images (the ones that are linked to the “media file” when you insert an image in a post) and displays them in an attractive-looking lightbox.
Settings: I use the “Image Lightbox” script on my blogs where I have clickable images. I also have it set to “Quit when the viewed image is clicked” and “Quit when anything but the viewed image is clicked.” That way it’s easy to get out of.
I love the look of floating social sharing icons on blogs — the ones you don’t have to search for or scroll to the bottom of a post to use. GetSocial has the best-looking free option I’ve found for floating social icons. (And trust me, there are some UGLY ones out there.) There is a limit to the number of visits your blog can get (10K) before you have to opt for a paid account with GetSocial, but unless your blog traffic blows up, the free service should suit you just fine in the beginning. See two slightly different variations of how I’m using the plugin on North to South and Stylish Travel Girl.
Settings: I have the GetSocial sharing icons on my websites set up to display small and all the way to the right or left of the page. I also limit it to three buttons so as not to overwhelm my page. I also have them turned OFF on my home page on North to South to keep it simpler. You can decide whether or not you want the sharing count to be displayed, and which social media platform buttons you want to include.
If you subscribe to the paid service, you can also add a mobile sharing bar to your site. If a lot of your users are visiting on mobile (check this in Google Analytics), it may be worth it to make mobile sharing super easy. Without a paid plan (they start at $7/month), no social icons will show up on mobile.
Heard of Bloglovin? If your theme doesn’t innately support RSS images (none of mine do), then you’ll want to use this plugin to make sure your “featured image” shows up alongside your post title/text in an RSS feed service like Bloglovin.
Blog posts with images convert WAY better than those without, so don’t ignore this one. And make sure you claim your blog on Bloglovin, subscribe to your blog, and verify that your images are showing up in their emails.
This is a great way to display your bio after each blog post. It’s great for giving new readers a sense of who you are — right after they’ve just read an article they enjoyed. You can also set it up to show your recently published posts, to encourage them to keep reading!
You know that little icon that shows up next to the website title at the top of your browser? That’s called a favicon. This plugin will allow you to add one if it’s not already included in your theme options (in most themes it’s not).
Note: Though I use ‘All in one Favicon,’ you can use Jetpack to add one instead. I would actually recommend that route, since you can count on Jetpack to be regularly updated since it’s created by WordPress (as opposed to most other plugins that are mostly created by small groups or individuals). Activate and configure “Site Icon” in Jetpack’s settings.