I like to share my own experiences using WordPress plugins to run Maximize Social Business to help you make your own website more social media optimized, SEO friendly, and even help convert more of your visitors into new leads. I say “website” because WordPress is not just for blogs: As a CMS, WordPress powers one of every 6 websites on the Internet, nearly 60 million in all, with 100,000 more popping up each day.
Everyone’s particular experience with WordPress will be different, but since I’ve always run a content-heavy site, I’ve become obsessed with increasing the performance of how quickly this website runs for the average user. Speed is important for many reasons: In the words of one SEOMozer:
“In my world, if you really care about SEO, you need to care about how fast your pages load. Speed may not be the most important ranking factor, but it’s a factor nonetheless. As long as Google’s search algorithm remains a mystery, you’ll never know what type of optimization tipped your site from page 3 to page 1. For some sites, faster pages could be that tipping point.”
Speed has been a factor in Google search rankings since 2010. While some might question how important of a factor it is, there is a greater purpose for having a faster website as detailed by Geir Ellefsen in his WordPress Performance And Speed Optimization Tips post:
“There are lots of benefits of having a blazing fast site:
- Better user experience
- People spend longer time on your site if it loads fast
- Search engines can crawl your site faster”
The problem, and the oxymoron of writing a blog post about WordPress plugins while seeking faster speed, is that it is commonly known that WordPress plugins can slow down your website. That’s why I’ve been trying to follow the advice of someone I have high respect for, Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, who says in his What WordPress Plugins Are Vital To The Success Of Your Blog? post:
When you use more plugins, your website loads slower.
And when your page loads slower, you’re killing your conversion rates, and your search engine rankings.
(Google recently announced that it uses page load times in their search algorithm. Additionally, countless studies have shown that if you increase your page load times by as little as 0.1 second, you can lose a huge amount of sales).
So how many WordPress plugins should you use?
The answer is FEWER.
But it’s not just WordPress plugins that slow down your site. As Sean Davis points out in his influential post How I Cut My Page Load Speed by 90% Using Jetpack, CDN, Dedicated Hosting, and More:
Plugins do not slow down your website. Poorly written code slows down your website. If the plugins you choose to use are written poorly, they will slow down your website. If they are written well, they will not slow your site down.
Fortunately for all of us, the company behind WordPress, Automattic, has been spending time adding several features to their JetPack plugin. Considering that this is the company behind WordPress, we can assume that the code is well-written, and thus you will see the appearance of their plugins in this list for the first time. Not all of their plugins work well, and they don’t support any and every feature that a blogger needs, but 2012 saw them evolve as a major force in the world of WordPress plugins. And, although you can configure it to implement as few or as many features as you’d like, it only counts as one plugin! That’s why the number of plugins listed below are greater than the number in the title of this blog post. If you haven’t checked them out recently, here is a snapshot as to how many features JetPack currently has:
One final thing to note: As hinted in Sean Davis’ post mentioned above, there are other factors that can also improve your performance. That’s one of the key reasons why I switched to WP Engine WordPress Hosting, which in addition to including CDN as part of their services, they also have their own caching system which means one less plugin needing to be installed!
With that in mind, below is my current list for the best WordPress plugins for social media, SEO and better visitor engagement.
Social Media WordPress Plugins
There are many ways to utilize the power of social media to help spread the word about your blog posts. The essential types of plugins you need to have here that I cover below are social sharing and Twitter integration. Note that while I used to have social commenting included here, I find that very few people share their blog comments into social media. Instead, I have focused on including my comments plugin in the Engagement Plugins section of this post.
- JetPack Publicize
I often tell my clients not to use automated plugins to publish new blog posts across social media because they will always get better engagement by personalizing their message for each platform. I still stick to that advice, but I also understand a reality that many face where they simply lack the time to do so. There’s also an argument, shared most publicly by Guy Kawasaki, that repeated sharing of your posts in social media will increase social media engagement of your blog content. So why not have the best of both worlds? Use this JetPack plugin to immediately post on your social profiles as soon as you publish so that you never miss posting them, and then follow up later in the day with personalized and optimized posting throughout social media? That’s what I’ve started to do!
- Social Warfare
This blog has used almost every social sharing plugin out there, but over the last two years we have standardized on what has become the gold standard for social sharing plugins: Social Warfare. This plugin provides all of the features you can ask for and has consistently been at the forefront of innovation in social sharing plugins by offering Twitter ReTweet counts as well as supporting separate images for Pinterest, Facebook, et. al. I highly recommend you don’t skimp out and spend a little money for the paid plugin. You won’t regret it!
- Revive Old Post
Revive Old Post (formerly known as Tweet Old Post) will automatically and randomly tweet out blog posts at certain time intervals. It even has options to add hashtags and leading text to it. The customization capabilities – and ease of doing so – give this plugin my thumbs up in the field of Twitter integration. If you have a lot of blog posts in your archives that you want to expose to your Twitter followers, look no further for a solution. WordPress plugins contributor Dean Soto pointed out that some might have an issue with this plugin – and in that case you’ll want to make sure that you check out a similar plugin called Tweetily. Note that if not all of your old blog posts are relevant for publishing to social media, you should instead create a queue in a social media dashboard like eClincher instead of relying on a WordPress approach.
Every WordPress website should strive to convert visitors into their marketing funnel, but not everyone will opt in to what you are offering. That’s why at a minimum you should strive to get visitors to convert into social media followers and build a relationship from there. If you look at the righthand side of this website you’ll see a floating bar with some social icons that allow visitors to easily subscribe to the Maximize Social Business social profiles. That functionality is provided by this plugin, which also offers A LOT of functionality similar to some plugins I’ll mention below including Hello Bar, SumoMe and OptinMonster. A small price to pay for A LOT of functionality!
SEO WordPress Plugins
SEO is a never ending-battle, so use these trusted plugins to help you in your WordPress SEO efforts:
- Yoast SEO
Up until a few years ago there was a battle between SEO plugins, but Yoast SEO has come out the clear winner through constantly innovating and adding useful functionality. For instance, many WordPress websites used to have to use a separate plugin for XML sitemaps, which is critical for SEO. The Yoast SEO plugin includes this, and although the free version is sufficient for most websites, the paid version will consolidate even more of your plugins by providing you redirection functionality. Stop wasting time: Installing Yoast SEO and learning how to use its rich functionality is simply the best thing you can do for your WordPress SEO. Period.
If speed is important for SEO, why wouldn’t you want to speed things up – for free, no less – by utilizing the leading CDN (Content Delivery Network) service Cloudflare. Not only is it easy to setup, but once it’s setup you can simply forget about it and enjoy faster performance.
- SEO Optimized Images
If you have lots of images in your site but never took the SEO of them seriously like me, this plugin is for you. SEO Optimized Images lets you dynamically insert SEO-friendly alt and title attributes to all of your images. You can automatically insert image name, post title and post category in title an alt attributes of image – and the best thing is it doesn’t change your database so if you delete the plugin your old attributes will be intact. A no-brainer to help with your visual SEO.
- Smush Image Compression and Optimization
Since we are discussing the SEO of visuals, we also don’t want to forget that visuals that are not properly optimized can slow down your site and hurt your SEO. That’s why we’re big fans of the plugin that used to be called Smush.it to help optimize previous images as well as automatically optimize every new image you upload to your WordPress site. I can’t imagine why anyone would NOT use this plugin!
Better Visitor Engagement WordPress Plugins
Social media and SEO are two of the best ways in which your blog, and blog-equipped website, can be found. But once someone sees your content, how can you ensure that stay on your website and increase your chances of engaging with them in hopes of “converting” them on whatever call to action you might have? This is where better visitor engagement, or encouraging a genuine two-way conversation between your brand and your online community, can help. Check out these plugins to help you achieve just that in coordination with the above SEO and social media plugins:
- Gravity Forms
If you want to better engage with your website visitors, you need to give them an easy way to contact you. Gravity Forms hands down is both the easiest to customize and most customizable contact form plugin out there. Plus, there are bridges that can help you integrate that same contact form information with email marketing software such as MailChimp. If you have never been satisfied with the customizability of your contact forms, you definitely need to give Gravity Forms a try.
- Hello Bar
While I don’t recommend using this all the time, if you have a specific call to action that you want to get the word out about, this simple and unobtrusive web toolbar that sits across the top of a website is the perfect solution. You can customize the color of your bar, the text font, text color and a few other options so that it blends perfectly with your site, and Hello Bar also supports A/B testing. Don’t let the most valuable part of your website – the top horizontal space – go to waste! Guide your visitors to where you want to send them! Based on campaigns I have done in the past for mine as well as client websites, I have seen Hello Bar CTRs as low as below 1% and as high as nearly 10%.
- JetPack Comments & Subscriptions
While many blogs still use Disqus, this blog moved back to WordPress native comment functionality with the release of JetPack Comments a few years ago. I came to the conclusion that comments should really be about the comments themselves, not the ability to share in social media, elaborate user interfaces, or complex dashboards. JetPack Comments allows visitors to login using their WordPress, Twitter, or Facebook credentials, and because the comment data lives on your site, you never have to worry about comments ending up in spam filters that were invisible to you through complex user interfaces or synchronization issues that exist with data being stored on 3rd party sites, two issues that this website had with previous commenting platforms. The integration with JetPack Subscriptions also provides a killer functionality: To provide commenters an easy way to sign up for notifications of new blog posts, thus potentially increasing your future website traffic with every comment.
- Dave’s WordPress Live Search
Does your site offer a search box for those who search for information on your WordPress site? If so, have you ever looked at the search results yourself? The standard WordPress search is not the most engaging. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a search bar where as you input keywords it automatically introduces content that match and provide you direct access without having to navigate to a search results page? This plugin is exactly that. You can test its functionality on this website by playing around with the search box in the upper right-hand corner of this website.
- Fanciest Author Box
This is not a free plugin, but it is the best plugin that allows you to easily showcase the photo, social profiles, and latest posts of the author of a given blog post at the end of each post. Just navigate to any post on this blog and you’ll see how it works. This will surely help in engaging your user and building a deeper relationship with them through showcasing your authors.
- Optin Monster
- Google Matched Content
OK, this is not a plugin per se, so I am cheating a little. But one thing you want to have on your website is some sort of widget that allows readers to dig deeper into your website by reading related content after they finish a blog post which can increase page views, time spent, and reader loyalty. There are many solutions to this problem that I have experimented with, including JetPack, Contextly, and Outbrain, but I have found that the Google algorithms simply provide the best results. That is what powers the recommended content on this blog, and you can use the widget so long as you have an AdSense account with them. The results of using it? Well, this is what Google has to say:
Matched content recommendations are based on topic similarity and are personalized for the reader. Our experiments show that on average Matched Content recommendations increase the number of pages viewed by 9% and the time spent on site by 10%.
For me, these are 15 of the best WordPress plugins for those who want a truly optimized blog for social media, SEO and engagement. Do you use these same plugins? Any alternatives that you would recommend? Give me a shout out in the comments below. Thanks!