10 Free WordPress Plug-ins Make Blogging Better

10 Free WordPress Plug-ins Make Blogging Better
Judging from the 150 million sites that make up the blogosphere, anyone can call himself a content publisher. But to stand out from the crowd, a blog needs more than just a stream of original content. A well-designed site needs a functional presentation that offers both author and readers the tools they need to create, find and share information.

A content management system (CMS) is a common way to organize data and tools, and WordPress is one of the most popular CMSs. One reason for WordPress's ubiquity is the availability of over 4,000 plug-ins, offering Webmasters seemingly endless ways to expand and customize their blogs. I've tried many WordPress plug-ins to fill different needs and have discovered 10 that I consider essential. This article describes those plug-ins plus a few more that you may find useful

Some disclaimers: I am not a PHP or SQL wizard, and my sites don't generate high volumes of traffic or revenue; only one entry has been popular enough to crash a server. However, my sites are eclectic in purpose, from static content to daily blogs, covering topics from pop culture to neurological disorders.

Along the way, I've found the following plug-ins to be consistently useful, whatever the environment.

(Note: I tested each with WordPress 2.8, which had just been released -- the software is constantly being incrementally updated, but you shouldn't have any trouble, no matter what version you use.)

Dagon Design Form Mailer

When visiting a site, I expect to find five basic features: "About" and "Contact Us" pages, a search box, an RSS feed and a site map. The omission of a search box is forgivable -- nowadays every Web browser has such functionality built in -- and RSS feeds (which WordPress generates automatically) aren't applicable to all kinds of content. This leaves three basic features, two of which -- "Contact Us" and the site map -- must be created with plug-ins. (Click image below for larger view)

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To give your readers a way to contact you without exposing your e-mail address, there are several plug-ins you can use to create Web forms. Though nothing beats WP Contact Form for ease of use, I recommend Dagon Design Form Mailer for its versatility. This plug-in allows a variety of input types for your visitors: text fields, radio buttons and checkboxes, dropdowns, calendars and more. Data can be stored on the server or e-mailed to both the sender and recipient.

Wading through these options requires using a somewhat byzantine definition process, but the online documentation omits nothing. I've found this plug-in to be so versatile that I've used it not just for collecting feedback, but also for setting up event calendars, conference registration forms, ticket ordering systems and more. And since multiple forms can be defined for a single site, it can handle each of these tasks on just one domain.

Dagon Design Sitemap Generator
Google (XML) Sitemaps Generator

The author of Dagon Design Form Mailer also offers Dagon Design Sitemap Generator for WordPress. This plug-in creates a site map -- a tool that I've always considered a quick and easy way to get a broad view of a site's content, where everything is found and how it's broken down. (Click image below for larger view)

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Sitemap Generator requires only that the plug-in be activated and that you have a page (usually with the slug "sitemap") that consists of a simple HTML tag that calls the plug-in. From then on, each new piece of content you add to your WordPress site will be indexed into your site map (unless you specify otherwise on a case-by-case basis).

While you're at it, consider adding Google (XML) Sitemaps Generator for WordPress as well. This plug-in creates a site map specifically in the format that Google uses to crawl your site for content. Submitting your XML site map to Google Webmaster Tools not only improves your site's discoverability; it also provides you with important diagnostics about broken links and inaccessible pages.

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