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When I built my first WordPress website, I had no clue what I was doing. I spent most of my time reading articles with titles like “Five Plugins Your WP Blog NEEDS Right Now” and googling phrases like “how does SEO work?”
Five years later and I’m no expert, but I do know what plugins and apps we use daily to keep our website running.
Building a website isn’t a one and done simple task, but requires constant updating and care. Heck, looking at my screen right now, I have 24 plugins that need updating.
To make your life easier, you’ll want a host of helpful plugins to take care of the things WordPress doesn’t take care of on its own. In this post, I list out our top plugins and apps for growing your blog. These are resources we use every day and BONUS—we don’t pay for any of them (and neither should you!).
Our Top Plugins
SEO, or search engine optimization, is one of those things that people make out to be way more difficult than it actually is. Yoast SEO is my favorite plugin because it really simplifies how SEO works.
After you install the plugin, it will automatically add itself beneath the text box when you go to start a new post. It’ll look something like this:
You assign the focus keyword for your post and the plugin will give you ratings for the main factors Google considers when ranking posts. Some of these are simple, like using keywords you haven’t used before or making sure your URL includes the keywords you specified.
Some will require some editing to your post, like specifying alt tags for pictures and working your keyword into your opening paragraph (which always feels a little unnatural to me).
The most important factor, in my opinion, is to make sure you update your meta description by clicking the “Edit Snippet” button (see below). This is that little paragraph that will show on Google or when you share the link on Facebook. The goal here is to include your focus keyword, and say something short and interesting enough to get someone to click your link. You are penalized if your meta description is too short or too long, so finding the sweet spot here is key.
I always wait until after I finish a blog post to tidy up my article and turn all my SEO lights green, but I try to always at least write down my focus keyword first. This way when I inevitably start rambling, I have my keyword written down to keep me on track.
If you’re a beginner blogger and internet terms overwhelm and confuse you, this is a great plugin to help make sense of complicated things.
This plugin is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a way to make ugly links pretty. Right now, I have this post URL set as this: http://heathandalyssa.com/our-top-plugins-and-apps-for-growing-your-blog/
That is long and ugly and really difficult to remember, but you need it for good SEO.
Pretty link is a way to make those long URLs shorter and prettier. Literally all I have to do is paste my long ugly URL and then create a pretty, short URL.
This is very similar to services like bit.ly which will shorten links for you, however, this is great if you want to keep your domain name in the URL.
We use Pretty Link most often for the podcast so that instead of typing in http://heathandalyssa.com/7-ways-to-build-remote-income-and-make-money-while-traveling/ to hear our interview with Mike at Ditching Suburbia, you can just type in heathandalyssa.com/episode4.
Once upon a time, a young girl named Alyssa totally completely 100% crashed her website.
And I had zero backups to fall back on. It was the most stressful, terrifying situation and I was about to have to start my blog again from zero. I had no idea what I was going to do. Years of work, GONE.
Fortunately, a super-smart tech friend recovered everything and brought my site back online, but I definitely learned my lesson.
Regularly backing up your website is a necessity, and we use the Updraft plugin because it’s super easy to use. All I have to do is click Back Up Now or schedule regular backups. Our site automatically backs up to our DropBox account, but you can send your backup files almost anywhere.
There are paid versions of this plugin, but we use the free version and it works just fine. We back up our website monthly, although now that I think about it I should probably up it to at least every two weeks so nothing gets lost.
No, not the Verizon jetpack we all use for internet.
Jetpack is a suite of WordPress apps/plugins/services by WordPress. We used to use a lot of the services jetpack offers, but then it was the program that actually caused my website to crash and for me to lose everything. So now we have a love/hate relationship.
However, we do use the site stats offered by Jetpack.
I love/hate being able to see our page views, tops posts, what people searched to find our website, etc. all in one place.
Want a good laugh? Two extremely common search terms for us are “stupid husband” and “most boring people in the world.”
Not. Even. Kidding.
If you’re blogging and want to build a community of readers, you need a way for them to easily comment and interact with you on your website. A commenting plugin makes this really easy. Most people make the mistake of just using the commenting system WordPress comes with. DON’T! For one, it can easily get blasted with spam. Two, it doesn’t look as clean or professional as a plugin.
Disqus (pronounced discuss) is my favorite commenting plugin for a few reasons.
- It’s extremely common, so once you create a profile, you can easily comment on most popular blogs. Plus you can create your login with Facebook or Twitter or Google, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of typing in all your information.
- It’s easy to reply to others’ comments.
- It’s super clean and I can usually see a picture of the person I’m talking to when I reply.
The plugin only takes a couple minutes to set up and you’ll be emailed as soon as a new comment comes in. Plus you can moderate comments if you wish.
Our Top Apps
I use Canva almost every day. I like to call it a poor man’s photoshop, but really it’s the best and easiest way to make social images for your blog posts.
All you have to do is choose where you want to share the image and it will give you the appropriate dimensions. I use this most often for creating covers for our Youtube videos and Pinterest images, and any other weirdly shaped social sharing images I need.
However, I’ve also created over a dozen ebooks for clients all in Canva. If you’re looking to easily design an ebook as an incentive for your website, I highly recommend using Canva (unless you’re a graphic designer and know what you’re doing!).
They have a ton of free templates to help you design your book.
Let’s just say the ebooks I made in Keynote on my own <<<< All the ebooks I’ve made on Canva.
You can’t run a website without setting up Google analytics.
I mean, you can.
It would just be a horrible mistake, especially since Google controls the internet/world/everything.
Google analytics can tell you everything about your website that you never wanted to know. For example, over the summer Heath realized most people stayed on our site for less than FIVE SECONDS. Isn’t that crazy? We were getting tens of thousands of page views but they didn’t even stay long enough to read anything.
Turns out, the servers where we hosted our website were taking up to 15 seconds to load a webpage! If your page doesn’t load in less than two seconds, bye-bye readers.
We never would’ve realized this if we hadn’t started looking closely at the more ambiguous analytics out there. We fixed our hosting issue and instantly our time-on-site increased tenfold.
Looking at your Google Analytics can send you down a rabbit hole, however, it’s a great indicator of what things you need to improve with your website. Right now, we are working on improving our time-on-site because that helps Google rank you higher in their algorithm. That means posting more videos to our site, embedding all of our podcasts on our webpage, and writing longer, more in-depth blog posts that hold people’s attention.
The best way to get your blog in the eyes of new readers to make your posts shareable. I’ve tried a LOT of social sharing plugins, and so far AppSumo is my favorite.
AppSumo adds these floating social sharing buttons to the side of your page, so as you scroll, they follow you down the page reminding you that you should totally repost this blog on Facebook and share it with your friends 😉
Plus, you’ll notice if you highlight some of the text of this post with your mouse, AppSumo will create a sharing box where you can tweet or Facebook share any portion of this blog post with a link back to this post.
In addition to social sharing, AppSumo has quite a few other products in their suite (many of which require a paid membership, which we don’t have).
We also use the Mash Share plugin for sharing blog posts, but this shows up at the beginning of a post and in my own experience, the floating buttons on the side are more functional. It doesn’t hurt to use both!
If you’re looking to sell a product on your website, you’ll need a third-party source. There are quite a few options depending on your product (WooCommerce, Shopify, Etsy, Amazon, etc) but we use Gumroad.
While it has a super weird and not very descriptive name, Gumroad is an easy way to sell products on your website. You can embed check out forms or “Buy Now” buttons directly into your pages and posts like this button for Heath’s RV Entrepreneur Book:
(And you can always change the text to say something more descriptive, like “Learn how to run your business on the road” or “Check out Heath’s book” or “Buy my product or else you’ll have bad luck for the next 67 years” or whatever you want)
The good thing about Gumroad is that you can use their services for free (they take a small percentage of sales), but they have paid options that can be better if you’re selling products in high volumes or selling multiple products.
Plus, they have their own affiliate structure, so if we wanted to have affiliates promote Heath’s book or any future products, we can do so easily.
Selling products on your website can be hyper confusing and frustrating, but Gumroad makes it easy to figure out.
When it comes to blogging, it can be overwhelming thinking you need to do everything. These nine plugins and apps take care of most of the major things we pay attention to on our blog. Try them out and see how they can help you grow and manage your blog more easily!