WordPress and plugins are almost synonymous and what makes it so easy to use.  You got a problem?  There’s a plugin for it.

Plugins make blogs better.

The thing is, there are so many plugins out there.  Which ones are good and worth your time?  I’m here to help you with focusing on the essential plugins you need to have.

What are plugins?

If you haven’t played with plugins yet, well you’re in for  a serious treat.  They are basically add ons to your WordPress site that introduce additional functionality.

You can add an almost unlimited amount of plugins to do some fancy cool stuff.  Anything from running a poll on your site, putting up social icons, newsletter pop ups and comment spam filters are all done by plugins.

Essentially if you check out your favorite blogs and there’s some cool functionality where you wonder “oh man how did they do that?”  Well it’s probably a plugin.

The 10 plugins that have made the biggest impact on my blog

There are so many plugins that I have a bad habit of running too many on my blog.  Generally you want to keep it manageable and under 15.  To get you started, here are my absolute favorites and I would consider mandatory for anyone running a travel blog.  Keep note that all of these plugins are free as well.

Without further ado, here it is!

1)  All in One SEO

Okay so lets start with some of the nitty gritty plugins that do the behind the scene stuff make your blog run effectively.  The first one I’ll touch on is All in One SEO which has been critical for me to stay on top of search engine optimization.  I’ll do another toolkit post on SEO but essentially it provides a super easy to use method of entering titles, meta descriptions, keywords and images for your blog, posts, and pages so that they show up properly and exactly how you want it on search engines like Google and when they’re socially shared on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

This is a must have.  A good alternative is WordPress SEO by Yoast which a lot of people swear by.  However personally, I’ve enjoyed using All in One SEO more since it’s a lot easier to use, understand and simple especially for early stage bloggers.

2)  W3 Total Cache

In a nutshell, this plugin gives you the ability to take advantage of things like “caching” and “minifying” of your code so that your page can be efficiently delivered to your readers. Faster is the keyword without getting into all the details.

Stark contrast to All in One SEO, W3 Total Cache is quite beastly.  There is a lot of configuration work involved in W3 Total Cache but I consider this a must have as well unless your readers like sloppy slow websites.

Be warned that there is a lot of customization required and going through several pages of menus but if you follow one of the numerous guides out there under “W3 Total Cache Settings”, you’ll be ok.  Just follow people’s screenshots one at a time.

3)  Google XML Sitemaps

Sitemaps are an important way for search engines like Google to be able to “crawl” or discover all the pages on your site.  Search engines want this because instead of starting from your home page and slowly traversing through all the pages in your site, you give it a map and legend of everything available.  Happy search engines = better SEO.

All in One SEO has their own sitemap feature but I’ve found the Google XML Sitemaps to work better with Google Webmaster Tools.

4)  Revive Old Post

I found out about this one recently but it came out of a thought in my head wondering “how do I surface all this awesome old content that I have?”  I was also noticing other travel bloggers with regular tweets about their own posts.  At first I thought, wow these guys are working so hard, populating their feed to push things out every hour.  I needed to somehow work harder too but then I realized they were just working smarter.

So introducing Revive Old Post, this is a plugin which allows you to connect with different social media platforms to automatically send out posts/tweets every x hours on your old content.  It takes the title of your post, attaches a shortened link and can append hashtags and off it goes.

My recommendation is to only use this for Twitter because if you start doing this on Facebook or LinkedIn, you’ll annoy the heck out of people.  The awesome thing about this is that I don’t even need to think about this on anymore.  My old posts are sent out every 4 hours.  Total auto pilot.

5)  Smart Layers by AddThis

For a long time I was tinkering with different social media sharing plugins and there are so many out there.  And then I started seeing travel blogs do a really good job of showing related posts to drive further engagement on your blog.  And then I discovered the Smart Layers by AddThis plugin that combined all of those together.  It looked really good to and I’ve loved it since implementing it on my site.

The two main features I use from this plugin are:

  1. The social sharing bar that allows readers to quickly share my blog posts to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and StumbleUpon
  2. The related posts flyout that shows up on the bottom right corner as you get to the end of an article

As a bonus, AddThis also has their own dashboard for analytics so you can see some cool numbers on how often people are sharing from the plugin and which articles people are clicking on when the related posts flyout shows up.

6)  Comment Reply Notification

Comments are kind of a black hole and you probably know this from commenting on other blogs.  You can leave a comment but if you don’t go back to the article or blog post, you’d have no idea whether someone responded back to you.  Engagement = low.

Install Comment Reply Notification as a simple no brainer plugin which simply adds a checkbox when you submit a comment that gives the option of getting an e-mail if someone replies back to the comment.

7)  Comment Luv

You’ll soon notice that it’s hard to get people to comment on your blog.  Most of the time it’s just spam.  So how do you get people to engage?  Well one way to do it is to use Comment Luv to entice other content creators to leave their mark.  Whenever a blogger leaves a comment on your blog, they have the option of highlighting one of their own blog posts in your comments.  You scratch my back, I scratch your back.

8)  Pinterest Pin It Button for Images

Okay I know this is a bit of duplication with Smart Layers but I love how this plugin makes it so dead simple for a reader to pin images on their Pinterest board.  You’ve seen it on other blogs I’m sure and with Pinterest Pin It Button for Images plugin, you can do it too.  Just hover and image and click “Pin it” on the top left corner.

9)  Simple Ads Manager

When I put together my “How to make money from blogging” toolkit posts, this will become more relevant but for anyone that has been looking at putting up affiliate ads on their blog, I would highly recommend Simple Ads Manager.

The reason why I started seeking out some sort of ad management plugin was that initially I was putting up image ads on my page statically.  For example, I was using a widget to display one ad on the righthand sidebar.  Problem was that it was the same damn ad on every single blog post and because it was a pain to manage, I would maybe only change it up every couple of months.  This was not effective.

Simple Ads Manager basically allows you to manage a whole collection of affiliate ads (text or image) and allow you to target ads to specific blog posts or categories of posts.  For example, for your hotel review sites, it probably makes more sense to deliver hotel ads instead of flight ads.  They also allow you to do complex things like only displaying ads for a specific time period and tracking impression/click rates.

If you’re a bit overwhelmed with this, don’t worry about it for now but if you’re looking to deliver your ads more intelligently, Simple Ads Manager is a great one to have.

10)  BJ Lazy Load

Last but not least is BJ Lazy Load.  It improves the performance of your site by not preloading all the images in your blog post.  So as a reader is scrolling down, the images will load dynamically.

In essence this improves initial page load times and therefore better performance

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There’s so much more so if there’s interest, I can do a bigger list but I think these’ll keep you busy for a little while 🙂

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Will Tang

I'm the writer behind Going Awesome Places and through its growth, I've learned a heck of a lot from trial and error. I have a passion for helping others succeed and through TBB my hope is to empower you with what works (and what doesn't) so you know exactly how you can take your blog to the next level.

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