By: Ankit Oberoi
WordPress is the blog platform of choice for neophyte and advanced bloggers alike. Powering over 70 million blogs, this avant-garde Web technology allows anyone with a passion for self-expression to publish their thoughts, even if these folks think that CSS, PHP and Ruby on Rails are public transit networks.
This code-crunching engine allows users to focus on what they really care about: presentation. While WordPress was certainly revolutionary at the time of its initial release, its relevance to the Web is even greater now.
This evolution began with version 1.2, which introduced plugins. Plugins from third-party vendors make WordPress faster, smarter and safer, while at the same time expanding its core feature set significantly—sometimes in ways that the platform’s creators never intended. For instance, entrepreneurs have embraced the technology for its ease of use, and they now sell their own products from the platform thanks to third-party plugins.
If you would like to become a WordPress power user, the plugins below are a fantastic starting place.
With the free WP-Optimize plugin, you can optimize your WordPress database with the click of a button—a task that in the past required a lot of technical know-how in the form of phpMyAdmin experience. With this innovative plugin, you can efficiently clean your MySQL database of spam comments, post revisions and other trash items. As any frequent WordPress user knows, it’s important to remove these redundant or unwanted items because if they accumulate, they’ll cause your site to load slowly.
You can automate the process with the plugin’s scheduler. This way, you can manage your database in set-it-and-forget-it mode, which means you’ll have more time to write. WP-Optimize will alert you of any potentially harmful operations by coloring them red, and it also will prompt you to back up your database the first time you use it.
If your CSS or HTML code is poorly structured, your site will load slowly, and you may lose traffic as a result. To protect you from this, AutoOptimize scans your site’s code and tweaks it in an attempt to make it run more efficiently. Specifically, this plugin looks for redundant code and removes it wherever possible.
This is the same idea behind compression software like WinZip, which removes duplicated data within a file in order to make the file smaller. In order to prevent compatibility conflicts within your overall WordPress install, you can tell AutoOptimize to ignore your other plugins. You can also use it to force your other plugins to run in a certain order, which can greatly speed up your page loading times, although you’ll have to do a bit of experimentation to find the best order for your particular configuration.
This free plugin utilizes data from Google to benchmark your site against established loading times. The immediate benefit of this is that you can see at a glance how your site performs compared to similar sites—Google calls this your page score. The plugin generates a report that features simple visuals that take the guesswork out of the process and prevents you from having to read tedious charts.
You’ll be able to tell if one of your other plugins are performing poorly, as well as determine if one page in particular is loading slowly. Run your report on a regular basis and you can easily track your site loading time, allowing you to save time in troubleshooting should your site performance dip.
Quick Cache is a free plugin that takes regular snapshots of your site. The resulting snapshot is known as a “cache,” and it greatly decreases the amount of time it takes for your site to load. When WordPress serves your site to a visitor, it does so by grabbing the resources it needs to create the page from your database. However, by creating predefined pages with your posts, pages, categories, links and images before your visitors ever arrive, Quick Cache can beat WordPress to the punch and save the platform the trouble of having to do so.
In fact, Quick Cache can serve pages up to 50% faster than WordPress can on its own. You have full control over how often Quick Cache creates new snapshots of your site. The plugin only serves predefined pages to visitors who are not logged in, however, as the pages of logged-in users contain data unique to them and therefore must be generated dynamically via PHP.
W3 Total cache can greatly improve your page speed and reduce page load time. It improves server performance, reduces load time and offers an effortless CDN integration. By reducing page load time, it helps improve your Google Page speed rating, thereby helping your site’s SEO. Similarly, due to improved server performance and reduced bandwitdh, it helps reduce hosting costs. W3 Total cache supports caching of posts and pages in memory or disk; caching of feeds, search result pages, database objects and minified css/js files.
This is great plugin which compresses your pages in gzip format, if the browser supports compressed pages. HTTP compression could mean a 50 to 80 percent reduction in the size of pages and improvement of pagespeed by three to four times. However, do not use this plugin along with the Google analytics plugin as this would cause a conflict. The issue is only with the Google analytics plugin, so you can use the analytics code directly.
Optimizing for Search (SEO)
As its name implies, Google XML Sitemaps is a plugin that creates an XML sitemap for your site. Your sitemap breaks your site down into a hierarchical map, which helps Google crawl your site. A more thoroughly crawled site can result in faster and better indexing. The better an understanding of your site Google has, the higher they can rank you for the keywords you wish to rank for.
The free plugin supports any URL types that you’re likely to have in your WordPress install, and perhaps most importantly, it automatically pings all of the major search engines whenever you post new content. Most search engines value blogs that regularly create new Web real estate. The plugin works with Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask.com.
WordPress SEO, a free plugin from SEO firm Yoast, comprises a suite of tools that will help you ensure that your entire WordPress site is ready for primetime. Perhaps the most important feature of WordPress SEO is its insistence that you specify a keyword before you create each new post, thus forcing you to focus on SEO as a matter of course.
Once you’ve finished your post, the plugin will evaluate your writing and alert you if you’ve used your keyword too often or too little. The plugin also features a nifty tool that shows you what your post will look like in search results. With this tool, you can easily ascertain whether your title is too long and whether your meta description is fitting.
WordPress SEO also contains a number of small features that taken together can boost your SEO. For instance, the plugin will alert you if it finds images on your site without alt text. These short, descriptive snippets are important because they help Google key on what your site is all about.
If you installed WordPress SEO and found that you have hundreds or thousands of images on your site without alt text, you aren’t alone. Another free plugin, SEO Friendly Images, is ready to help you tackle the issue once and for all. The plugin helps you secure valuable image search engine traffic by automatically applying pre-specified alt text to groups of images. You will have to create image groups and specify the code, but the process is still significantly faster than updating all of your images individually.
SEO Ultimate is a free WordPress plugin that seeks to provide an all-in-one SEO solution. With this powerhouse of a plugin, you can retroactively update title tags and other metadata as well as employ advanced anchor text techniques such as deeplinking. The plugin also provides powerful visual aids that allow you to quickly locate your on-page SEO elements such as headline and title tag.
The plugin’s 404 Monitor will send you an alert if it detects that your site is linking to a page that is no longer valid. It’s easy to end up with a lot of these links when you make large changes to your site’s permalink structure or categories, and they can negatively impact your SEO efforts.
Many a times, you come across a situtation when you want to republish content on your blog from an external source. While you are republishing content with permission and you are linking back to the original source, google still views the content on your page as duplicate. This plugin can help here by inserting a canonical tag in your page header.
The canonical tag mainly links out to the preferred version of the page/content. This can also help when different versions of a URL (think with and without trailing slash) are being used to access the same content. Search engines see both versions of the URL differently and assume that content on one page is copied from the other – canonical tags come to the rescue here and this plugin can help you place them.
We all know how important Sitemaps are for SEO. They help in indexing, which is a big concern for large websites. The sitemap generator plugin is not just a XML generator. It is highly customizable and supports multi-level category, category/page exclusions, permalink addition, show hide publish date and much more. The plugin in available in more than 20 languages.
Optimizing for Conversions
At $17, Roo Heatmap provides a dynamic, accessible heatmap solution to Internet marketers on the WordPress platform. A heatmap is comprised of both a front-end and back-end component. The back-end aspect monitors users’ interaction with the site, tracking their mouse movements and clicks.
The front-end component converts this data into a colored map, showing you on a page-by-page basis where your visitors are clicking the most. Typically, heatmaps show the most heavily trafficked areas of a page in red, then orange, followed by blue and green.
You can use Roo Heatmap to determine whether your site layout draws your visitor’s attention toward or away from your product or service.The plugin allows you to exclude your own IP address so your own time on the site is not taken into account. You can generate reports based on the clicks that you receive in a given day, or view all-time stats.
If you are a wordpress user monetizing your website via AdSense, AdPushup is a new offering which can improve your AdSense revenues by optimizing your ads. It works on an auto-pilot mode and continuously tests different ad placements, sizes, types (text vs image ads) and elements (text ad colors, font sizes, etc) to find the best performing ad variations with your AdSense Ads.
The best part is that it works on a continuous optimization model. A common problem noticed on all websites today is that as you come closer to finding the best placement for your ads, banner blindness is a phenomenon which kicks in and click through rates start dropping again. Continuous optimization does not let that happen. (Disclosure: I’m a co-founder)
If used with care and respect for the visitor, popups can prove an invaluable addition to any website. Specifically, they are vital to the process of list building, which typically involves offering a freebie in exchange for an email address. With the free plugin WP Super Popup, you can create an endless array of customized popups with an easy to use WYSIWYG editor.
This editor is not dependent on your site’s CSS, so you have an unprecedented amount of freedom in designing your popups. Before taking your popup live, you can view it in the plugin’s live preview window and experience it exactly as your visitors will.
Nelio A/B Testing, at $20 a month, can provide you with the tools you need to perform sophisticated split tests from within WordPress. Better yet, the plugin has virtually no impact on site loading times as all processing is done via remote server. Split testing is perhaps the most important conversion-enhancing endeavor you can undertake. In a split test, you create two versions of your squeeze page—or any other type of page—and then serve both versions of the page to visitors at random.
The resulting data is objective, and it clearly tells you which version of the page converts better. Extensive split tests can increase sales, and Nelio A/B Testing makes the process easy. When a test finishes, the plugin tabulates the results and then sends them to you in an email. It also considers social media indicators in its calculations, which can put you head and shoulders above competitors who disregard these powerful sales generators.
SideOffer is a free WordPress plugin that does one thing well: it creates a persistent tab on the side of the screen that contains a call-to-action. You can use this space to promote a special offer such as a special report or your newsletter. Because SideOffer places this tab on each page of your site, and thereby increases your visitor’s exposure to your offer, you may see significant growth in your list. You can customize the tab with your own graphics so that it integrates just right with your site.
AB Press Optimizer is a great way to run A/B tests on your website. Without any requirement to embed scripts in your code, you can test any text element on wordpress pages or posts. It works with all themes and data regarding the status of the experiment is shown in real-time. You also have an option to schedule your tests. In the Pro version, which is priced at $39 for a single website, you can test content blocks and images; monitor form submissions/click interactions and export the test data in CSV format.
All content marketers know how important headlines are. Some content creators spend as much time on finalizing the headline as they do on creating the complete article. Trust me – it is totally worth it too! The importance of having a great headline is immense. Title split testing plugin takes the guess work out of the picture and you can test all the alternate headlines to see which one performs best. After a while, once you have data to back up your decision, you can select the best title for your article. The best part, this is a free plugin.