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Awesome WordPress Plugins to Empower Your Visitors

This guest post is by Jeff Starr, co-author of the book Digging into WordPress.

Helping your visitors get the most out of your site benefits everyone. Visitors get more relevant and useful content, and you enjoy better statistics and more exposure. Unfortunately the game is set up to keep people away from your site. Think about it:

  • Search engines are used to find your content
  • Feed readers are used to read your content
  • Social media is used to share, tag, and organize your content

These are major obstacles, certainly, but they don’t have to work against you. People use search engines, feed readers, and social media because they provide functionality missing from most websites. By integrating some of that same functionality into your site, you empower your visitors to maximize its usefulness. This may sound like a tall order, but if you’re using WordPress, improving your site couldn’t be easier. Let’s look at some awesome WordPress plugins to make it happen.

Google-power your search results

People will always use external search engines like Google to find content on your site. That’s a good thing, but you also want to empower your users with the best possible search results. WordPress’ default search is limited in several ways:

  • does not do “exact-match” searching
  • only searches posts and post titles
  • only searches your current WordPress installation
  • can be painfully slow, gobbles resources

Fortunately, we can harness the power of Google and empower your users with the most accurate, comprehensive, and speedy search possible. Integrating Google Search into your site provides the following benefits:

  • exact-match searching (i.e., using quotes to match specific phrases)
  • searches your entire site plus any other desired sites or directories
  • usually works pretty quickly – much faster than WordPress default search
  • optional additional revenue through Google’s AdSense program

Sound good? Here are some of the best plugins to make it happen:

Google Search for WordPress

This beautiful plugin works silently behind the scenes to replace WordPress’ search results with Google’s search results. You simply install the plugin and enter your Google API Key in the Google Search Settings. If you don’t have an API Key, it’s free and easy to get one. The only other requirement is to include “Powered by Google” next to your search form and on the search-results page. Once it’s installed, all search results will be replaced by those from Google. No code-wrangling required.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Google Custom Search Plugin

The Google Custom Search Plugin is another excellent way to integrate Google Search into your WordPress blog. Instead of signing up for an API Key, visit Google Search and create your own custom search engine by walking through the steps. After setting up your own form, grab the generated code and paste it into the plugin’s Settings page.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

More from Google

The More from Google plugin works a little differently by adding to your default search results instead of completely replacing them. After installing and configuring the plugin, your search results will include matches from both WordPress and Google. If Google has yet to index your entire site, this may be the perfect way to ensure that visitors are getting the best search results.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Other Ways to Improve WordPress Default Search

If Google Search isn’t for you, don’t fret. Here are two additional plugins that will vastly improve WordPress’ default search:

  • Search Everything – literally searches everything in your database, based on your preferences
  • Better Search – highly customizable solution for improving WordPress’ default search

Regardless of how you do it, improving your site’s default search functionality is a great way to help your visitors use your site and find the content they crave.

Socialize and communitize your WordPress site

Bring the excitement of social-media to your WordPress-powered site! There are so many reasons to empower your readers to favorite, share, and rate your content directly on your website, and just as many awesome plugins to make it super-easy to do. Here are some of the best plugins for making your site fun, social, and more interactive.

WP Favorite Posts

WP Favorite Posts is a popular, five-star plugin that enables your visitors to add favorite posts to their own list of favorites. Installation is easy, and the plugin is straightforward and easy to modify and customize to fit any design. I use the plugin on my Angry-Birds fan site. You can see the “Add to Favorites” link in the upper-right corner of any post. There is also a link to “View Favorites”, where each user can view (and delete) their favorite links. And even cooler than all that, you can display a list of everyone’s most-popular favorites, very similar to how Delicious works.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Star ratings and reviews

Post ratings are a fun and informative way to engage visitors and promote content. And there are many post-rating plugins to choose from.

In terms of functionality and customization, the GD Star Rating plugin can do just about anything, but the endless configuration options may be overkill. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the elegant simplicity of the Vote-the-Post plugin, which is lightweight, flexible, and easy to customize code-side for tight design integration. I use this plugin to enable voting at Angry-Birds.net (see any post for example).

These plugins also enable you to display lists of top-rated posts anywhere on your site, so you can uninstall that most-popular-post plugin you no longer need.

Chat forum

Chat forums aren’t for every site, but when done right they’re great ways to build community and facilitate conversation. As with post-ratings, there are many chat plugins available in the Directory, but there are two that stand above the rest:

Both of these plugins are popular, highly rated plugins that provide flexible, customizable chat functionality. WordSpew is great because it uses Ajax to refresh everything automatically, keeping the chat window flowing in real time. Pierre’s Wordspew works without AJax, but it also uses a Flash .flv file that prevents it from working on devices like the iPad and iPhone. You can see a highly customized example of the WordSpew plugin at Dead Letter Art.

Show online users

Just like showing off counts for feed subscribers, Twitter followers, and Facebook fans, you can also show off the number of users currently online. An excellent plugin for this is WP-UserOnline, which provides several templates for easy configuration of how and where the user-online count is displayed. You can also set up a “Who’s online?” page that shows detailed statistics of where your visitors are on the site, who they are, and where they came from. This awesome plugin takes only minutes to implement using template tags and/or widgets.

Social media

Even after socializing your site, you want to make sure that visitors can easily share and bookmark your content on their favorite social-media sites. I tell you the truth, there are a gazillion plugins and widgets for adding every social-media site under the sun, but you really only need one plugin to do the job. Just install and configure WP Socializer and done. Any combination of social-media buttons, icons, links displayed virtually anywhere on your site. Tons of options yes, but they are all well-organized and easy to configure from the comfort of your WordPress Admin.

Wrapping up

No matter how awesome your website, there’s always room for improvement. With the techniques and tools described in this article, empowering your visitors to get the most from your WordPress site is as easy as installing and configuring a few choice plugins. As you go, keep an eye on site performance. Loading up with too many plugins can burden your server and slow things down for visitors. All the functionality in the world means nothing on a slow-loading website. A good strategy is to cherry-pick a few choice plugins and watch the results. Remember the goal is to help visitors get into your site and really use it for all it’s worth.

Jeff Starr is a web developer, graphic designer and content producer with over 10 years of experience and a passion for quality and detail. Jeff is co-author of the book Digging into WordPress and strives to help people be the best they can be on the Web. Read more from Jeff at Perishable Press or hire him at Monzilla Media.

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Comments

  1. Very helpful tips,here.

  2. Nice ones to check out. I am recently obsessed with WP plugins :)

  3. Tom Durkin says:

    thanks for the information, there are some great plugin ideas here. I love the forum plugins for wordpress. Really need to get that and the google search installed right away!

    Tom

  4. Don’t forget about providing a Custom Search Engine as well! You can create those for free at Google over at http://www.google.com/cse/ .

    WordPress is rather awesome that the plugins you mention are free to use!

  5. Is there any way to implement the Google Search plugins and have it render on a results page within your existing WordPress theme, I tend to not like that it displays a separate completely unrelated looking results page.

  6. Chris Coyier says:

    @Tom Durkin – Google CSE is awesome! We cover integrating that without using any plugins (but still with WordPress) here: http://digwp.com/2010/10/google-custom-search-in-wordpress/

  7. John Garrett says:

    Thanks, man. I’m definitely going to test out WP Socializer. It would be nice to have all the social stuff under one plugin and spare myself some headache.

    That Google CSE looks like a handy addition as well. Good, post no doubt.

  8. I just started playing around with ratings on my fine art blog and breakfast blog I edit – I figure it’s quick, easy, and reveals social proof. Seeing how readers are leaning away from commenting and opting to share on Twitter and Facebook, I figured it might help keep visitors active while on the blog.

    Anyone finding success with this?

  9. jason says:

    I am especially interested in wp-online users plugins. This seems really cool. Can’t wait to try it out. Thanks for the advice.

  10. Alex says:

    Gret list Jeff, thanks for putting this resource together.
    I like that these plugins are genuinely designed to help the reader, and therefore can only help the blog owner in the long run.

    Cheers.

    I actually have a do follow blog search bar on my blog and the feedback has been pretty good there.

  11. Bill says:

    I have been using WP on my hosting site for a while now for 3 different sites. I must say it is awesome. It is also surprising how much of my life resides on Google servers and apps. I hope they don’t change their “Don’t Be Evil” creed any time soon.

  12. Pak Scout says:

    Jeff you have shared some nice plugins. I was looking for the plugin that could replace the default search engine with the Google search. This one will be helpful.

  13. Jeff,

    I did not know about a few plugins so thanks for sharing these, I have to check it out. There are many good plugins but some can clash with your theme, as I found out hard way and I am trying to be careful before activating new ones.

  14. Ngozi Nwoke says:

    Thanks for this post. Some of the plugins will really help my blog.

  15. Chris M says:

    Awesome post, nothing better than discovering some new and awesome plugins for WordPress. I’m going to give WP Favorite Posts a try, first time I’ve heard of it – looks good on your Angry Birds site.

  16. I write a lot about WordPress plugins and it was great to learn about the ability to add Google search easily and more important about WP-Socializer.

    I don’t think that I’ll use WP Favorite Posts as I almost don’t use favorites any more. When I want to find a page I usually start typing it and immediately get it from history.

  17. Paul says:

    Great post about plugins. I use many of the one mentioned above but I did not know about the WP Favorite post plugin. Thanks for the information.
    Paul

  18. Jagan Mangat says:

    useful plugins,some are really must for wordpress users,as for every blogger adding things which make readers stick to the blog,are beneficial.

  19. BlogTipss says:

    I Give a try for Google Search for WordPress and WP Favorite Posts. Thanks for Great sharing.

  20. I rather would recommend Digg Digg plugin for social buttons. Do you feel WP Socialize is a better alternative than Digg Digg ??

  21. Nice plugins, I wasn’t aware of some of then, thankfully I am already using Google search within my blog because I really believe it provides an added value to my visitors.
    Regarding social media plugins, I couldn’t recommend GetSocial more, providing a Mashable-like floating bar on the left of your blog with all the various social network buttons in it.

  22. Allan Ward says:

    There’s some great plugins and ideas here. I’m off to look at WP Favourite posts now.

    Allan

  23. I think i’m going to give the search plugin a trial. Thanks for sharing this info.

  24. Wow, you surprised me with a few different ones from the normal lists seen…

    Thanks!

    I did Widgets and Plugins on my radio show last night and none of these were on my list.

    Of course there’s only a god-zillion things you could add to a blog….

  25. Mack says:

    Great post about plugins. I use many of the one mentioned above,I am interested in wp-online users plugins. This seems really cool.

    visit
    starfizy.com
    starfizy.com/jobs

  26. I can fully recommend CommentLuv as its easy to install- works like a dream- and gets your better comments- Grant

  27. mazarine says:

    I tried WP Favorite posts, but after many tries, it didn’t work on my wordpress site (http://wildwomanfundraising.com).

    So today I just read an article by Marshall Kirkpatrick about Post Rank, which will show which posts you’ve written rank the highest in terms of comments and views, and you install it as a plugin, and then the widget is available in your widget section.

    Here’s Marshall’s post on that: http://marshallk.com/one-click-blog-community-intelligence-button

    Peace,

    Mazarine

  28. Josh Ray says:

    I think the chat forums is a cool idea but I don’t know if it would work on a new site like mine. I think you need to have a strong following before you start a forum otherwise you may have just 1 or 2 people hanging out in the forum.

  29. Jay says:

    Great post going to install some of these plugins right now….Thanks!

  30. Mark Kelly says:

    Jeff,
    Thanks for listing some new plugins for me to check out I am always interested in improving search so will do some background checking on these.

    Here is another resource that is a more generalized security risk evaluation your readers might appreciate as they evaluate and install some of the plugins you mention.

    http://informationsecurityhq.com/wordpress-plugin-security-what-are-the-risks/

    Best Regards
    Mark

  31. Brett says:

    Great list but I’d add Disqus to it. It provides an excellent way to engage readers as they follow up to comments, and it has built in tools to links to other social media.

  32. Jed Schaible says:

    What do you think of the SEO title tags plugin by Stephan Spencer (the author of “The Art of SEO” – duh). I am using it with another plugin and sometimes duplicate title tags get posted. Also, liked the JD Salinger post – when you are pissed off, I think you write longer posts. You probably like being pissed off then (hmmmm….)
    Jed

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