The best thing I like about WordPress is undoubtedly the huge ecosystem of community-built plugins that one can use to extend the functionality of WordPress. Basic WordPress missing a feature you need? Chances are there are one or two (or three, or ten) plugins that someone has built to fill that void.
There are some plugins that practically all WordPress blog owners have installed: Akismet, WP Super Cache, some Google Analytics plugin (pick your favorite from a dozen different implementations), and so forth. Everyone knows about these plugins, so I’m not going to talk about them today.
What I would like to share with you instead are 5 WordPress plugins that may not be as well known, but I have personally found them to be quite useful for my own blog.
All of these plugins work on WordPress 2.8.2, the latest version of WordPress at this time.
In alphabetical order…
All blogs with a lot of content need an easy way for readers to find the content they need. The two basic ways to do it is through search or some sort of article index. Even for a small blog like mine, I have found that having an index can be pretty useful, even if only for me to find the article that I need quickly.
Click on my Taxonomy link above to see the index page that I have created for my blog. It would be difficult for me to manage and update the index manually, but with the AZIndex plugin, you can create and manage a highly-configurable blog index with rich navigation options very easily.
The plugin is chock full of features, and the UI for creating and managing the index is straightforward and functional.
And once you have created your index, you can activate it by using the WordPress short code in your page text, such as:
[cc lang='text' line_numbers='false'][az-index id="1"][/cc]
It doesn’t get any simpler than that!
BTW, for those of you interested in the rotating tag cloud on top of my index page – that was not created by AZIndex, but a different plugin, WP-Cumulus, instead. WP-Cumulus is a pretty nice plugin in its own right, but it’s basically just eye candy.
Update: You may have noticed that my Taxonomy page does not exist anymore. I decided to remove it for a site redesign. However, I still wholeheartedly recommend the AZIndex plugin!
Check out this post I wrote last week. If you scroll through the 235 comments there, notice that I was able to pull in comments from social media services like Reddit and Twitter into my comment stream?
Well, you can use the BackType Connect plugin to do that.
BackType is a relatively new social media service which aims to index and catalog millions of conversations from blogs, social networks and other social media so people can find, follow and share comments.
By installing the plugin, you will be able to leverage the BackType service and display comments from other blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed, Digg, Reddit and Hacker News which are talking about your blog post. These comments behave just like any other comments, and your users can reply to them and so forth.
Note that you will need a BackType API key (and thus need to register an account with BackType) in order to use the BackType Connect plugin. Update: The API key will automatically be generated for you when you install the plugin. You don’t need a BackType account!
Like I mentioned above, besides creating indexes, search is the other way which can help your readers find the content that they are looking for on your blog.
Unfortunately, the default search functionality in WordPress sucks.
I tried other options before, like Google Custom Search. The search results were alright, but somehow it had problems indexing the correct pages and posts on my blog.
So after I read this excellent article by Joost de Valk, I decided to take matters into my own hands and use plugins and hacks to make WordPress search suck less.
Joost recommended using the Search Reloaded plugin. Unfortunately, it wasn’t free. Someone in the comments suggested wpSearch (a Lucene-based search engine), but unfortunately it had annoying problems with indexing after articles were updated. Finally, I came across the wonderful Relevanssi search plugin created by Mikko Saari. It basically does everything that wpSearch was supposed to do, minus the indexing problems.
Armed with Relevanssi, Joost’s instructions, some minor supplementary plugins (Search Excerpt and Search Suggest), and a few hours, I was able to create a WordPress search experience that I’m finally happy with.
Relevant. Neat. User-friendly. Useful.
If Mikko is reading this – my last request to you: Would you be able to make Relevanssi index blog comments as well as the blog contents? Update: Relevanssi indexes blog comments now. Awesome!
All modern blogs need some kind of lightbox plugin.
(If you are not sure what a lightbox script does, basically it allows you to view images on the blog page without leaving the page. For example, click on any of the images above and see what I mean.)
In the WordPress plugin directory, there are literally dozens of different lightbox plugins that you can choose from. I personally tried at least five or six different kinds.
I wholeheartedly recommend it.
If you look at my blog’s home page, About page, search results page and any of my blog posts, you will realize that depending on which page you are viewing, the widgets on the right sidebar will vary.
For example, on my search results page, the widget for tags and most recent posts don’t appear. On my home page, I have a huge widget (“Who is the Armchair Theorist?”) that does not appear anywhere else. And likewise, on my About page, it shows a whole bunch of other widgets that can only be found on my About page.
How can I do that? The answer is the uber-versatile Widget Logic plugin.
In a nutshell, Widget Logic allows you to set a conditional expression for each widget which will determine whether the widget will be rendered or not. This is very powerful stuff, since you can use any of the WordPress Conditional Tags or even generic PHP code as part of your conditional expression!
How cool is that?