With over 17,000 plugins in the WordPress repository (and growing every day), the opportunities to bloat your blog with functionality are overwhelming.

All you really need to build a blog is great content, but there are definitely some tools that will help grow and engage your readership. We build a lot of blogs, and we’ve compiled our list of 5 essential tools you’ll need to build, syndicate and promote your blog content.

  1. List managers.  Email and feed subscriptions are a blogger’s gold, so make sure you’ve got opportunities for people to subscribe to email, feeds, whatever.  Feeds alone won’t drive long-term, sustained traffic you need to build your ad dollars, so make sure you start an email subscription and deliver a weekly newsletter to pull out some of your archive content.  We prefer these tools:
    • CampaignMonitor.  We use CM’s CreateSend product to set up professional newsletter templates and manage email subscriptions.  We can’t say enough awesome things about the tools they’ve created for our clients to use.  If you want us to help you set up an email list and professionally designed templates, get in touch.
    • Feedburner.  Redirect your feeds through Google’s Feedburner product and set up email subscriptions as well, for inbox delivery of your RSS feeds.  Simple, free.
  2. Opt-in Sign-up Forms. Now that you’ve got your lists ready, how do you get subscribers? Ask them to sign up, silly. Everywhere. Make sure you ask them in your sidebar, at the top of your posts, after they read a great article. There are a gazillion (yes, that many) plugins to help you build your lists. While we generally write custom code for these, there are plenty of easy plugins out there, like these.
    • Referrer Detector. This is especially great if your posts are syndicated or inexplicably promoted through other sites and media. You can create specific greetings for visitors from referring sites at the top of your blog, and include a link to sign up for your feed or email list.
    • Campaign Monitor Ajax Forms helps you add your email list sign up boxes anywhere on your blog – as a widget in a sidebar or through shortcode on any page.
    • Feedburner forms are super simple to paste into any text widget or the HTML tab of your editor, but if you need help, use Feedburner Anywhere to grab subscriptions.
  3. Sharing Tools. Easily the most often requested “plugin” that everyone needs/wants. There are many ways to encourage syndication of your content through social networks, and thousands of plugins to support whatever you want to do. We think style is important, so we like to keep our sharing tools subtle and in-line with the design of a blog. As such, our favorite plugins are:
    • Norcross‘s great Simple Social Sharing. The easiest, most elegant way to add the like/tweet/digg/share icons to the footer of every post. No settings, no fuss, no muss. That’s it.
    • Share This. If you want options, use the free and easy Share This plugin.
  4. Comments! WordPress themes all account for simple commenting systems, but to really encourage discussion and help folks interact and share content, use a plugin to assist. Plenty of discussion abounds on these plugins, so have at it. I find it’s a personal preference of the blogger I’m working with.
    • Akismet. Start here. Akismet fights spam in your comments like no other. All you need is an API key, which is free.
    • Disqus. We like Disqus because it’s feature-rich and ridiculously simple to use. Inline media embedding (hello, video!), mobile commenting and great notification systems make it worth the 2 minutes to install.
    • Facebook comments. This may be the wave of the future, or at least the very near future. You can add the ability for users to use their Facebook accounts to make comments that (might) get published to their FB profiles, thus helping to spread your good word.
  5. Search Engine Optimization. You’ll never go anywhere without some Google love, so be sure your pages and posts are ready to rock.
    • Google XML Sitemap generator. Get this, use it. Submits your blog’s sitemaps to Google whenever you write a new post or add a page.
    • All In One SEO Pack is a great do-it-all SEO plugin. If your theme isn’t already loaded with SEO goodness, this plugin gives you the ability to write all of your custom titles and meta-data without doing any extra work. Or, you can fine-tune all you want using their interface.

Ok, so what’s missing? Sidebar content (widgets). Analytics. Putting together an editorial calendar. Managing syndication across your own social networks. Advertising and monetization. Image and layout managers, galleries and featured content promotion. Archive and search tools.

The list of what’s missing is longer than what’s here – which is to say that there is no one-best-path to success as a blogger. You’ll need to write, write and write more to find out what works for you, your content and your readers – but the list above is a great place to start.

What are your favorite must-have blogging tools or plugins? Do share.

3 Responses to “Blog Basics: 5 Essentials Every Blog Needs”

  1. Andrea Butje

    This is a great blog post for people starting their blogs! Excellent advise, and how great that I can share your post on any social network I like! Do you have any suggestions for good reading on getting started with advertising and monetization?

    • Andi Graham

      Monetization is such a tricky topic. Maybe I’ll tackle that next. There are a lot of considerations: your blog’s mission, your content and personal credibility, your reach and reason. You don’t want to jeopardize any of your good will in the space, so need to pick sponsors and monetization channels that fit with your message.

  2. Cynthia Brownley

    These are such amazing suggestions. Can’t wait to implement these into Stillpoint Aromatics blog! Thank you for sharing these tips.

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