We’re now on the fourth blogging case study update and in this section we’re going to start putting the finishing touches on the inner workings of your blog. By now you should have chosen a niche, decided on a domain name, have your blog hosted online and – after the last update – styled it to be both relevant to your niche and effective at grabbing the attention of visitors.

In this update I’m going to be focusing on the plugins you should have installed in your blog and the services I use to get the most out of my internet ‘operations’. Before I continue I want to add that I’ve decided I’m not going to be including videos in future sections unless they’re absolutely necessary to help me get any points across. Since I’m updating the course so much based on feedback from you all, I want to make sure everybody has the latest information and it’s far easier to update text than it is to constantly re-record videos.

I will however be adding videos once the whole case study is over and I have adequate feedback on each section. Thanks for understanding. Let’s go…

Your New Email Address

Though this isn’t exactly a crucial step when it comes to blog success, I recommend that all of you set-up an email address which is linked to your domain name. For example, the email I have attached to this domain is HQ@BloggingCaseStudy.com. Having an email address with your domain in it is good for branding and looks more professional on contact and advertising pages, as well as in interactions with other people in your niche around the web.

Setting up your @yourdomain.com email address is actually very simple and is done through a Google service known as ‘Google Apps’. Not only will you get to use the typical Gmail (Google Mail) interface with your domain, but you’ll also be able to assign email addresses to other people, as well as use Google Docs and other Google services like Youtube under the same account.

The process is very straight forward and takes about 15 minutes to set-up (though 48 hours for the email side of things to be activated) and simply requires you to upload one file to your site via FTP (get those details from your host if you don’t have them yet) and change one setting in cPanel which you should already be familiar with from installing WordPress.

To get started with the 100% free version of Google Apps you can go here. Simply follow the step by step instructions, selecting cPanel from the dropdown menu after verifying you own your domain.

My Top Recommended Plugins

Someone emailed me the other week asking ‘What is the real benefit of WordPress and why is it free?’. Besides the obvious answers I previously provided about how using the WordPress.org software on your own server gives you full control of your blog and the content you put on it, the platform itself also has a huge community base.

Thousands of people have not only created tutorials and themes for this blogging solution but they’ve also created tens of thousands of plugins as well. These plugins give your blog extra functionality depending on what it is that you require. The majority of plugins out there are completely free to use though there are some very popular premium add-ons as well.

Before I share my favourite plugins and what they do, I want to quickly show you how to install plugins. Just like adding a theme, it’s a very simple and very quick process. All you need to do is log into your WordPress backend – that’s yourdomain.com/wp-admin/ – and click on ‘Plugins’ on the left navigation menu and then ‘Add New’ under that. From here you can simply search for all of the plugins I recommend by name and install them directly, or you can upload the zip file of the plugin from the links that I specify.

Once you install a plugin you’ll be asked to activate it, then in your left navigation bar (usually on its own menu or under the Settings divider) you’ll be able to customise its specific options.

Akismet

Akismet is a WordPress created solution which allows you to reduce the number of spam comments you receive on your blog. This plugin will automatically be installed when you setup WordPress, so simply follow the instructions from the plugins area in your admin backend to acquire your WordPress API Key and activate it.

Align RSS Images (Download Link)

If you align images with text in your blog posts then they won’t actually stay aligned (left or right) in your blogs RSS feed for people who are reading your content using the likes of Google Reader. Instead, any graphics you use will sit above your text on their own line, which usually doesn’t look too good. The Align RSS Images plugin fixes this problem for you.

All-in One SEO Pack (Download Link)

I’ve used this for a number of years and with over 7 million downloads, it remains the most popular SEO plugin for WordPress. AOSP lets you configure a huge number of options on your site to help you with your search engine optimisation efforts.

On the settings page for this plugin you’ll see a number of options. The main ones I change – and what I change them to – being:

  • Plugin Status: Enabled
  • Homepage Title – This should include any keyphrases you’re trying to rank for (see this keyword research post for more info) and the name of your website
  • Homepage Description – This is the snippet that will show in search engine results whenever your site is displayed. Keep it enticing, relevant and to the point.
  • Homepage Keywords – Though these have diminishing importance, you may as well include them anyway. Simply enter some words related to your niche, for example ‘guitar, guitar lessons, guitar teacher’ and separate them with commas as prompted.
  • Post Title Format: %post_title%
  • Page Title Format: %page_title%

These are the main things that I like to change but feel free to tweak these suggestions. In recent months another popular plugin came out for WordPress by my friend Yoast, which is also free and includes more options than AOSP.

I highlighted AOSP here since it is what I have used for years and I currently find it a little easier to tweak than Yoast’s plugin. When editing individual posts and pages in WordPress you’ll also notice a new menu option under the content area which lets you tweak specific SEO aspects of that post/page for even better on-page optimization.

cbnet Ping Optimizer (Download Link)

If you include a lot of resources in your WordPress pingback section (this basically notifies certain services that you’ve written a new article) then you need to be careful. Any time you edit the post it will re-ping those services with your changes. Too many pings and there’s a chance you could get banned from the respective portals. This plugin minimises the number of pings your blog sends, to counteract this potential issue.

Comment Redirect (Download Link)

Created by one of my favourite plugin developers, Joost De Valk (Yoast), comment redirect allows you to send visitors to any page on your site after leaving their first ever comment. I personally send them to a page where I thank them for commenting, and then offer ways to subscribe to my blog so they can get future updates. Leave a comment on ViperChill.com for the first time and you can see this in action.

FD Feedburner Plugin (Download Link)

On the next page I’ll be looking at some services to use on your blog with one of them being Feedburner. This allows you to track how (and how many) people are subscribing to your site. The FD Feedburner plugin allows you to easily redirect your default WordPress blog feed URL to your new Feedburner URL (if you are using their service) to ensure that your readers aren’t missing any updates and your feed count is accurate.

Outbound Links (Download Link)

This plugin simply makes outbound links to other websites open in a new browser tab. I find this especially useful when I reference other websites in a post, but need people to continue reading in order to understand why I linked that site. The plugin is very straightforward and does its intended job as expected.

ViperRep: Reputation Management for WordPress (Download Link)

Find out who’s talking about you, your brand or products online with Reputation Management for WordPress. This is a plugin I created myself after having the desire to see when other bloggers are talking about me and my website. It allows you to use as many phrases and to pull as many results as you wish and displays them clearly in your WordPress dashboard area.

Subscribe to Comments (Download Link)

This plugin simply adds a checkbox to your current blog comments and allows people to subscribe to get email updates when new comments are posted. This helps you to get more comments on your site, more returning visitors and also helps discussions form more freely on popular articles.

ViperBar (Download Link)

ViperBar was created by yours truly after wanting more features from other similar options out there. In short, ViperBar adds an attractive, eye-catching banner to the top of your website which gives people the option to get notified whenever you write a new blog post, thus helping to increase the number of subscribers you have. It works with Mail Chimp, Aweber, and Feedburner which are covered on the following page.

ViperFeed (Download Link)

Another plugin created by me, ViperFeed allows you to style your RSS feed footer in any way that you wish. This allows you to easily show other posts you’ve written or even giveaway freebies to subscribers. It also allows you to add an attractive divider bar which separates your post from the “footer” content.

ViperProof (Download Link)

My final plugin, ViperProof, was mentioned in the last update as an easy way to show off ‘social proof’ on your blog in order to encourage more people to subscribe and take notice of your website. You can see this in action in the bottom right corner of ViperChill.com where you see all of my blog stats.

Widget Context (Download Link)

In the last update I mentioned that you should look for a theme which is widget enabled so, if you’re a beginner to editing WordPress themes, you can customise your design with a little more ease. Widget context takes the benefits of Widgets to another level by allowing you to choose whether certain widgets show (or don’t show) on certain pages.

For example, on your article pages you may want to have a small bio about yourself and why you’re blogging in your sidebar. If you don’t want this to show in your sidebar when people are on your homepage then you can easily specify that with this addon. Simply go to Appearance > Widgets and click the drop-down arrow on any widget to tweak your settings.

WP SuperCache (Download Link)

WP SuperCache allows you to speed up the performance of your WordPress blog. It utilises caching to minimise the number of calls to your database that your website makes, and thus enables your pages to load faster. Definitely recommended if you are on a shared host, and could use a little speed boost.

Note that this should probably be the last plugin you install since you’ll need to keep deleting the cache in order to see any style changes you may be making.

WPTouch (Download Link)

WPTouch allows you to improve the appearance and usability of your WordPress blog for people who connect to your website on a mobile phone. Specifically, iOS (iPhone) and Android devices. The premium version also adds a number of customization options which let you make your mobile site look relevant and similar to your desktop-optimised design.

You’ll probably be pleased to hear that I’m now finished with my list of plugins. On the next page we’ll look at my recommended blogging services and a few final tweaks you should make to your blog…