Handy WordPress plugins

Handy WordPress plugins

Posted on Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 by Jamie

Anyone installing a WordPress blog should take note of these plugins. Some of them are essential, some of them are just handy. They have all been tested and found to be compatible with the new release WordPress 3.0. We will be constantly adding plugins and even removing them as they become superseded.

This one comes with WordPress ‘out of the box’, but it is well worth activating as it is basically an anti spam tool. It simply requires that you enter an API key, available by registering on the WordPress site or the Akismet site. The API keys are reusable across domains so you need only do it once for all your blogs.

All in one SEO pack
Pretty essential for any blog really, this adds meta description and meta keyword tags to your template (which seem to be missing from some themes) as well as canonical URLs. Title, Description and Keywords tags are automatically written, based on the plugin’s settings. All these can be overwritten individually for each post and there are a number of other useful settings, such as excluding pages and adding noindex for archives.

Google Analytics for WordPress
You may choose just to add your Analytics code to the footer in your template, but using this plugin gives you more control over what data is tracked – for example you can exclude admin visits. It also supports AdSense tracking and Urchin.

No 404 Errors
There is a bug that affects some shared hosting, whereby rather than displaying 404 Errors, raw html is sent to the browser. This clever plugin changes 404 errors to 301 errors and redirects to a custom WordPress page.

TinyMCE Advanced
This adds buttons to WordPress’s limited TinyMCE setup and also allows you to control what buttons are used with a drag-and-drop interface. It also has the option to import styles from the stylesheet and to stop WordPress’s annoying habit of stripping out <p> and <br> tags, making it easier for users to add spacing in a post.

Breadcrumb Trail
Some designs require a ‘breadcrumb’ navigation, showing you the route you took from the homepage to the current page. They can be very useful, since it’s easy to get lost when navigating a complex blog. WordPress doesn’t supply this feature out of the box, but this plugin gives you a breadcrumb trail function that you can add anywhere in your theme. It’s simple to customize via the plugins files.

Add Lightbox
This automatically adds rel=”lightbox” to all images linked to in your posts and pages, grouped by post ID. You have to add the javascript files manually. The code can easily be modified in order to use your preferred image pop up script, for example, colorbox.

Great for posts of a technical nature, this allows you to highlight code by wrapping it in ‘pre’ tags and specifying a language from the GeSHi library, for example, XML, PHP, CSS.

NextGEN Gallery
Wordpress already has a pretty useful gallery function, whereby each post or page can have a number of pictures associated and displayed in a simple Gallery layout. NextGEN gallery allows you to insert any Gallery, or a selection of Galleries (an Album) into any post or page. It also comes with a number of Javascript slide shows already set up (some of which require  you to install the javascript files manually) and the ability to add watermarks, arrange your pictures and albums, create RSS Feeds, add photos to the sidebar etc. For any blog where images are an essential part of their content, you should be using this. It is a little daunting when you first try to use it but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Adds a button to the bottom of every post and/or page that generates a printable version of your content. You can choose whether to display comments, images and links or not.

Social Bookmarking
There are many social bookmarking plugins and it is an essential feature for blogs and indeed any website these days. There are the well known buttons such as AddThis and ShareThis that you will see all around the web, as well as the specific WordPress plugins. These add a clickable list of social networking icons to the bottom of each post. The ones we tend to use are Social Bookmarks, which you can see on this site, and Sociable, which I feel is the better choice as there are more sites to choose from and the icons are a little nicer, plus the user can manually disable it for individual posts. Another one which I rather like is Sexy Bookmarks, although this isn’t for all sites. At the end of the day there are many to choose from and its up to you to find one you like.

Lock Pages
Thanks to Mark for finding this one, “Lock Pages prevents specified pages (or all pages) from having their slug or parent edited, or from being deleted, by non-administrators.” Really handy when using WordPress as a CMS, as we all know what could happen if top level pages start being removed and renamed.

Excerpt and Content Word Limit
You can’t always rely on a client making use of either the ‘excerpt’ or the ‘more tag’ and as useful as the excerpt is, it relys on it being set up in the theme. I had played around with word limit plugins before but been unsatisfied, mostly due to the limits of the options. This plugin is great, you can use it anywhere you like, by swapping the usual ‘the_content()’ to ‘content(25)’ in your theme, where 25 is the number of words to limit the post by, this is handy because you can have different word limits in different places and can also limit the excerpt. The only downside of this plugin is that the word limit, is itself limited by 27, i.e. it wont go any higher than that.

Maintenance Mode
“Adds a splash page to your blog that lets visitors know your blog is down for maintenance. Logged in administrators get full access to the blog including the front-end.” Says it all really, very useful as without messing with the .htaccess file you can’t just add an index.html page to appear before the .php, and even then i’m not sure that will work. You can of course edit the standard template that comes with the plugin, it is also easy to switch on and off and includes other settings I haven’t needed to play with.

Pagination is a great way to navigate lots of pages of a ‘list’ kind of style, i.e. blog posts. WordPress page navigation out of the box is, in my opinion, a bit naff, simply going from previous to next page. This is easy to install and easy to style. Use this and the breadcrumb nav and you’re sorted.

Thats it for now
Although I will leave you with this: Although most of these plugins have settings to customize the look and functionality they can still be quite restricted. However remember that CSS can do some pretty clever things and in many cases the plugin’s code itself is quite straightforward, so it’s worth having a little play around to get things just as you like.

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