One of the most formidable aspects of WordPress as a platform is the immense degree of customizability its diverse selection of plugins affords a blog owner. Unfortunately, no two plugins are created equal, and it can often be difficult to decide what’s worthwhile. How’s a blog owner to know what they should and shouldn’t install?
It all starts with knowing what sort of functionality you’re looking for – what types of plugins does your blog require to shine?
Last time, we were primarily concerned with security and stability. Today, we’re going to switch gears a bit — we’ll be focusing on a few plugins aimed at the reader. Ensuring a positive experience for your readers is essential, and these tools are just the ticket to help you do so.
Members (User Groups And Permissions)
One common gripe regarding WordPress is that the default roles and user groups provided by the platform aren’t terribly flexible. Although most blogs can probably get by without paying too much mind to user roles, sites centered on user-created or collaborative content may find themselves unable to meet their unique needs with the defaults. That’s why Members exists.
This powerful plugin allows you to create, edit, and delete roles, with full control over their capabilities and permissions. It also allows you to control which users have access to a particular piece of content, and includes a login form widget, privacy options, and access control shortcodes. It’s effectively a complete overhaul of WordPress’s default user roles system.
Widget Logic (Site Layout/Widget Control)
Authors who want a bit more control over where and how widgets appear on their blog can install Widget Logic. This plugin adds an extra control field to every widget that allows you to designate which pages that widget will appear on and under what conditions it’ll show up. Both conditional tags and general PHP code can be entered into the field, and the plugin also includes the option to let you tweak the HTML code of your widgets without having to edit any plugins or core code.
Be advised, however, that you need to set your permissions properly if you’re going to be using this plugin, as anyone who has access to widget appearance options will be able to inject whatever code they please into the control field. That includes malicious functions.
NextGen Gallery (Image Galleries)
We’re a rather visual society. A few good pictures can go a long way towards drawing in readers. It’s not surprising then, that so many authors choose to include image galleries in their posts. What is rather surprising is how ill-suited vanilla WordPress seems to be for the task. Thankfully, plugins are there to pick up the slack; of these tools, there’s one in particular that stands out.
NextGen Gallery bills itself as the most popular WordPress gallery plugin in circulation, and it is one of the most popular WordPress plugins of all time. It boasts 9 million downloads, and offers a whole host of features to help you manage, sort, upload, and present images to your audience.
Unfortunately, many users have recently been complaining of issues with bloat tied to NextGen Gallery (though whether or not their blogs are properly optimized stands to question). If load times are a concern for you, it might be better to use an alternative gallery plugin such as Lightbox Plus Colorbox.
Visual Composer (Site Construction/Site Layout)
How your site looks is just as important as its content. If your blog is ugly, unappealing, and confusing to navigate, then you’re going to have dissatisfied readers leaving in droves, regardless of how valuable your content happens to be. Similarly, if you’ve a sharp, easily navigable, and interesting website, users are more likely to return after their first visit.
While you can certainly try to cobble your website together within WordPress itself, it may be worthwhile to use a construction tool instead. One of the most powerful I’ve come across is Visual Composer. This visual editor grants you a great deal of freedom over how your blog looks, and features both a frontend and backend editor with a drag and drop interface. As an added bonus, it’s mobile-ready out of the box and includes a dedicated professional support team.
Technically, I suppose it’s more of a utility than a plugin, but it’s nevertheless invaluable in the right hands.
nRelate (Related Posts)
One of the most effective means of increasing reader engagement (and thus pageviews) is by showing them related posts. It’s not terribly difficult to understand why: if a reader liked a particular piece of content, there’s a good chance they’ll be interested in something similar, as well. Since WordPress doesn’t provide great functionality for the display of related posts, you’ll want to install a plugin.
To that end, nRelate is a great choice. It’s simple, easy to use, relatively lightweight, and offers a considerable array of layout options. It also offers monetization options for your related posts, as well. If you find that plugin isn’t to your tastes, there’s also Outbrain, YARPP, or LinkWithin, as well.