In our last installment of Blogging for Expats, we looked at plugins. Plugins can decorate your blog, and provide additional functionality beyond what your theme offers.
Remember, though, just as you should never download free themes from anywhere except WordPress.org, you should never get free plugins from any other source either.
I’m going to talk exclusively about free plugins here. Not every blog needs the same ones, but these are some basic plugins that will enhance most themes and that most of you can use when you first start your blog.
To locate, download and install plugins, simply click on the “add new” link in the plugins menu on your WordPress Dashboard. Type in your search term, which is the actual name of the plugin if you know it. If not, describe what you want it to do.
Once you locate the plugin you want, just click “install now” and follow the prompts.
Decorate Your Blog
Dynamic Content Gallery
The Dynamic Content Gallery is one of my favorite plugins. That little gizmo provides the eye candy on the home page of Future Expats Forum, namely the slider at the top.
When you first set it up, you tell it how you want it to pull in images and text and it does the rest automatically. You can use it, as I do, on the homepage to draw attention to certain articles, or you can use it to display photos or artwork as part of a portfolio or gallery display on its own page.
Add More Functionality
WordPress Related Posts
Often you’ll see a listing of related posts at the bottom of a blog article. Did you ever wonder how that gets there? Sure, you could figure out what posts you want to feature and type in the information manually, but it’s much faster and easier to use the WordPress Related Posts plugin.
You set the number of related posts to display. Here’s what it looks like on this site.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engines can send a lot of traffic to your blog — if they can find you. Plugins like the All in One SEO Pack make SEO (search engine optimization) a whole lot easier.
Speed Up Your Blog
Nothing spells lost eyeballs more than a site that’s too slow. As your blog holds more and more content, it slows down. Plugins like W3 Cache or WordPress Super Cache help speed up load times and reduce the demand on the server.
Social Media Plugins
More and more traffic comes from social media sharing rather than search, so choose some plugins that will make it easy for your readers to “like” and share posts. Here are a few of my favorites.
Make it easy to retweet with the TweetMeme button. If your reader has a Twitter account, they can share your post with a simple click of the button.
Facebook “Like” Button
There are several good plugins to display the Facebook “like” button on your blog and to integrate your blog with your Facebook Page.
Sexy Bookmarks is another excellent social sharing plugin. Unlike the two plugins above which are Twitter/Facebook specific, this displays one-click sharing buttons for an extensive menu of social sites. I’m not currently using this plugin here, although I did for a while and may again. Here’s what it looks like when you hover your mouse over the Facebook link (see how it pops up to be more visible?).
There are lots more plugins available — over 14,500 available from WordPress.org — so we haven’t even scratched the surface here.
One word of caution before you start installing plugins with wild abandon: because they are open source, sometimes plugins have a hard time getting along with each other. Before you install or change a plugin, back up your blog! That way you can always revert to a working version in case of a plugin conflict.