5 Crucial, but Invisible, WordPress Plugins

Wordpress LogoI’m a huge fan of WordPress. It just seems to be the most complete Open Source project out there, and not just web based open source applications, all open source applications. One of it’s great strengths is that the developers made an excellent decision with regards to leaving functionality out. As most developers will tell you, this is often the hardest part of any project, and is a skill in itself. Fortunately, by leaving certain features out of the core product, WordPress have allowed a thriving plugin community to spring up, and there are some real gems to be found. Now I’ll try my best not to recover ground that’s been covered elsewhere, so I’m going to give you my five favourite WordPress plugins that keep your blog running smoothly, but remain almost invisible to your users.

  1. CAPTCHA, From ProtectWebForm – Akismet is great, it catches a whole bunch of spam and keeps your comments section clean. However, the fact that the comments are getting as far as Akismet means that each and every failed Spam comment is taking up valuable resource on your server. So why not stop them before it gets that far. The plugin supplied by ProtectWebForm allows JavaScript enabled browsers (almost all of them) to post with no problems, if there is no JavaScript a CAPTCHA test is displayed. The key is, almost all spam bots don’t understand JavaScript, so they can’t submit comments at all! Genius. And even if a genuine user wants to leave a comment, but have JavaScript disabled, they can simply complete the CAPTCHA test and comment away. On one of my blogs which receives a large amount of spam, the installation of this plugin saw Spam comments caught by Akismet drop from over a thousand a day to 1 or 2, it’s THAT good. The upshot is you can allow largely un-moderated comments on your blog, confident in the fact that the vast majority of spam comments will get caught by this plugin, and the rest will be caught by Akismet. That’s the policy I use on this blog, and there aren’t any spam comments, nor have there ever been. Combine this with the excellent Simple Trackback Validation plugin to stop trackback spam as well.
  2. WP-Cache – Anyone who’s had a site go down under a heavy load, a digg perhaps, will appreciate this plugin. Essentially, it converts all the dynamic pages on your blog into static pages. This greatly reduces the load on the server, especially under heavy stress, as the database does not need to be queried multiple times for every page load. All that sounds great, but this plugin goes a few steps beyond that. Each static page is updated regularly, so they are never stale. They are also automatically updated if the content changes at all, for example if someone leaves a comment or you update the post. This plugin requires no maintenance and you will only realise it’s even there when your site remains up under a particularly heavy load.
  3. Autolink Plugins – I use two plugins on this blog that counteract my inherent laziness. The first is Categories Autolink, which turns any word that matches the name of a category on your blog, into a link pointing to that category. Great for pointing visitors to other related content on your blog with absolutely zero effort. The second simply turns URLs into hyperlinks, and is called Auto-hyperlink URLs. So if I type www.google.com, it automatically becomes a link without me having to go through the hugely time consuming process of adding the link manually (if it appears as a link for you, that’s the plugin in action).
  4. WordPress Duplicate Content Cure – For some reason, Google has a bit of a problem understanding the way blogs constantly link to their own content. Whether this is linking to an older post, or the fact that links to posts occur across many pages, the homepage, the categories page, the archives by date and others. This plugin adds some confusing stuff to your pages, possibly magic, that prevents Search Engines from indexing your content in multiple locations. You’ll know that you need this plugin if you Google your blog and all the results have the “Supplemental Result” marker next to them. A word to the wise though, even after installing this plugin it can still take a while for you to lose the Supplemental status. I still haven’t completely lost it on all my pages, but other users have reported complete successes.
  5. Google (XML) Sitemaps – If you build it, they won’t come. You need to go out there and grab an audience. Yet, even in this social, Web 2.0 world, a large proportion of your traffic will come from search engines. In fact, Google alone sends over 40% of this site’s traffic every day. So how do you make sure Google knows how to get around your site? Well you send it a description of your site that it can understand, a map of your site if you will. If you were to do this manually, it would be incredibly tedious. Fortunately, Google supports an industry standard XML schema for sitemaps, a schema that this plugin follows. Essentially, every time you add content this plugin updates the sitemap and tells Google that it needs to come and have a look at the changes. I can pretty much guarantee that if you use this plugin, your Google search rankings will improve (warning: Not a real guarantee!).

I hope this list has given you some food for thought. It’s sometimes worth remembering that your blog needs some under-the-bonnet work, just to keep it running smoothly. If these plugins work correctly, they will be completely invisible to your users, which is kind of the point.

I’d like to give some honorable mentions to the following:

  • Add Meta Tags – Yes, they are still important, and this plugin in does it all.
  • Adsense Manager – If you use Adsense, you are going to be interested in this plugin which allows you to easily place adverts in your posts and in certain other areas of your blog. You can create multiple ads in different zones and ensure consistent colourisation. Very nifty.
  • Akismet – This is a given. It comes with new WordPress installations and does an absolutely stellar job of stopping spam.
  • Feedburner Feed Replacement – If you use Feedburner, you’ll want this plugin which automatically replaces the feed URLs WordPress generates with ones that point to your Feedburner feed. No mess. No fuss.

Hopefully you enjoyed this post. If you did, why not subscribe to ensure you don’t miss out on any future content. If you have any WordPress plugins you simply cannot do without, let us know in the comments.