April 9, 2014 63 comments

11 Essential WordPress Plugins for Pro Bloggers (that are free and simple)

by Regina


Pro blogs look so “pro” because a lot of care is put into the features, functionality, and layout of each post and page. The thing is, it doesn’t have to take half your life/day to add these sleek elements to your posts if you have the correct plugins. Enter, The 11 Best Plugins for Pro Bloggers in the History of the Earth. You’re welcome.
Oh, and P.S. These are for self-hosted WordPress sites, only.

1. Shortcodes: To enhance formatting + layout

“Shortcodes” are literally short snippets of code that create or call the rest of the complex code of an element for you. As an example, I might use the shortcode “[form]” to place an entire contact form in a post or page. A shortcode plugin is what tells WordPress what each shorter line of code should do.

After using WordPress for five+ years, I’ve finally found the best shortcode plugin EVVA: Symple Shortcodes. When you want to add formatting or features like a 3-column layout, or attractive download buttons, or pricing tables, or “call to action” boxes, all you have to do is click the Symple Shortcodes button within your WordPress post:
Symple Shortcodes Plugin - The best shortcodes plugin for WordPress

Nice, right? When it comes time to format like a pro, Symple Shortcodes will make your life much more amazing. It’s absolutely free, you’ll just sign up for a WPExplorer account to access it. You can check out a few more of the features you can add with this plugin below, or you can view their sample site with even more elements.
Symple Shortcodes Plugin Example

2. A spam blocker: So we don’t have to jump through Captcha hoops to leave comments on your blog

As much as I love going through an 8-step verification process on your blog to simply leave you a comment about how much I enjoyed your post . . . C’mon son! (courtesy of Psych: the best show ever)
C'mon Son: courtesy of Psych

Most WordPress installations come with a plugin called Akismet already installed. It’s an exceptional plugin that will protect your blog from lots of junk comments. All you have to do is “activate” Akismet with two simple steps:

Step 1:
Navigate to your “Plugins” in your lefthand WordPress dashboard menu, and click “Activate” under Akismet.
Activate Akismet: Step 1
Step 2:
A message will pop up at the top of your screen; you now have to activate your account through the Akismet website. Once there, you can elect to donate to their organization for the use of the plugin if you wish:
Akismet Activation: Step 2
If you find you don’t like Akismet (umm, weirdo), then here are some other spam blockers to check out:

3. Neater affiliate links and redirects: Because pretty links are less suspicious and more fun to click on

Pro bloggers like to make money (here’s how you can make money blogging, here are reports on what I make and how I grow my traffic). And they should. It takes a long time to create and promote quality content consistently. I once wrote a blog post (3 days ago: remember it?) that took me 12+ hours to complete. Others have taken me even longer.

When pro bloggers put links to affiliate programs (partnerships that provide a commission if you click the link and buy something) in their posts, many of them have created a clean/pretty URL to make the link look neater. So instead of seeing www.hmmaffiliatecompany.co/34885-99208e-3kd9d9dghe9-product-sss17, you might see www.byregina.com/lovethis. Better, yeah?

How do these bloggers accomplish such feats? I don’t know about the others, but I LOVE, HEART, + go crazy over Pretty Link Lite. It allows you to create pretty links using your own domain name. www.byRegina.com/IBeLinkin [Don’t go there. That’s not real]. Say what? It also tracks clicks on your links so you can see how effective they are. Now, go forth and make your affiliate monies . . . and no, I don’t know what to say about their star graphic:
 WordPress URL Redirect Plugin: Pretty Link Lite

4. A way to subscribe to comments: So we can know if you reply to us when we leave a comment + so we can stay looped in on the conversation in general

If you’ve ever commented on my blog:

  1. You are the kindest, most decent human to ever walk the planet, and –>
  2. You may have noticed the option to get a notification if I reply to you, or to subscribe to all future comments.

This is accomplished with the Subscribe to Comments Reloaded plugin for WordPress.
The Best Comment Reply Notification Plugin for WordPress
This plugin has the potential to help you keep the conversation going and delight your readers further. How else will they know if you say something hilarious or useful to them? Don’t expect people to just keep checking your post/site for new comments.

5. Search engine optimization (SEO): To, umm, optimize your site for search engines

There are lots of good options for SEO plugins for WordPress. The one that has become my favorite over time is WordPress SEO by Yoast.

I know a picture is worth 1,000 words and all, but let me just explain some of what you’re seeing in the image below. With every page and blog post on your site, you can set the title and description that shows up in Google search results (“Snippet Preview” below controlled by the “SEO Title” and “Meta Description”) as well as keywords for your post.

In addition, the plugin checks your post for you, in the “Page Analysis” tab, and helps you fix any SEO shortcomings. You can also set a specific Facebook image + description, or Google+ description for your posts/pages, in the “Social” tab, if you want to show something other than the default snippet when someone shares you post link on those platforms.

The Best SEO WordPress Plugin

6. A rollover “Pin it” button: Because it’s 2014 and Pinterest is IT; Update: It’s now 2017 and Pinterest is still IT

When you roll your mouse over an image on a site and see a custom “Pin it” button, not only is that blogger making it easier to pin cool content, but you’re actually reminded to pin things, and you’re seeing the bloggers branding and usefulness be reinforced throughout their blog.
Custom Pin It Button Plugin for WordPress in Use
I have installed and worked with multiple “Pin It” plugins for clients and myself. The best Pinterest “Pin It” plugin I’ve found for WordPress is jQuery Pin It Button For Images.

To get the full value for your blog and for your readers, there are a few things you’ll want to do with this Pin It plugin once you install it:

Pin It WordPress Plugin for Pinterest Custom Settings
1. Change it to “Dynamic” mode if you want people to still be able to click, download, or use your images as well as pin them. 2. Choose which source Pinterest will pull the image’s description from. Use “Page title” as I did (in the image above) if you want the title of your post to be pinned with every image by default. Users can modify this description, but it’s a good starting place. 3. Select that you want the image to always link to the post page so that Pinterest will direct visitors to the correct place on your site.

4. Select which pages you want the Pin It button to work on, and 5. Select the minimum height and width an image needs to be for the Pin It button to work. This will prevent the Pin It button from popping up on small, thumbnail images that would not make good pins.

6. Choose the level of transparency/opacity you want to occur when a user rolls their mouse over an image. Play with different settings to find what you like. I opt for lower numbers so that users can still see the image pretty clearly. 7. Add a custom Pin It button that matches your brand. Lastly, 8. Decide where you want the Pin It plugin to drop your new button: In the center of an image, the top left, the bottom left?

7. Easy social media icons: Because you don’t want to make people work too hard to connect with you

I love the Social Media Widget plugin by Blink Web Effects, because you can use built-in icons or add your own.
Images of the Best Custom Social Media Widget and Plugin for WordPress

Another great option is Simple Social Icons, because you can set the size + color of the icons quite easily.
Good Social Media Plugins for WordPress: Screenshot of Simple Social Icons

8. Font options: For better formatting

I’m a nerd who likes to write out everything in code. I understand that most of the world would prefer not to do that. If you’re like normal people, you’ll probably love the Fonts plugin, to give your text pro formatting. Fonts is a sweet WordPress plugin that adds two simple options to your pages and posts: styles (to change the font in use) and sizes.
Image of the WordPress Fonts Plugin

9. Recent posts: For your sidebar, to keep people engaged

I originally shared my favorite “recent posts” plugin and widget in my post on 12 Pro Blog Improvements You Can Make (a.k.a. Don’t be an Amateur Blogger), but it’s worth repeating: Use the Advanced Recent Posts widget (an older plugin but a good one) to optionally add an image, excerpt, and “read more” button for a number (that you specify) of recent posts, which you can narrow down by category (shown below in use on iDesignbyJulie.com). Optionally, just link images of your recent posts in your sidebar like I do sometimes (below).
Example of Advanced Recent Posts Plugin for WordPress
Image of Linked Popular Posts in WordPress

10. A post calendar + manager: To make your life awesome

A plugin like Editorial Calendar can be used to view, rearrange, and create or modify drafts of blog posts to come, published posts, and posts you have scheduled for a certain date.
Image of the Post Calendar in the Editorial Calendar Plugin for WordPress

11. Share buttons for your posts: So people can actually share your hard work

Sure, you could make people go through the trouble of copying the URL of your post into their favorite social media platform to share your content, or, you could provide them with simple share buttons + a visual reminder to share your content using either the Simple Share Buttons Adder plugin (pictured directly below) or the Shareaholic plugin (which is currently in use on my site and can be seen at the bottom of this post).
Image of a Great Social Sharing Plugin for WordPress

Soooo, how’d you like those plugins? Any others you’d recommend? If you don’t have some of this functionality in place, why not try out a new plugin or two this week? Comment below with questions or suggestions and I’ll get back to you!

Image of sleek man who is clearly a pro blogger: © Joshua Resnick – Fotolia.com

63 responses to “11 Essential WordPress Plugins for Pro Bloggers (that are free and simple)”

  1. Thank you Regina! I found your blog and I am loving it! This is a great post – ready to do your blog business plan now!

    • regina says:

      Thank you Jessica. I’m just getting to check out your great blog now too. I’m all about those beer braised chicken skewers; they look so good. I appreciate you coming by the blog and commenting.

  2. Alexandra says:

    Hi Regina – I just discovered your site through Pinterest and have been reading for alsmost two hours now… so many helpful tips and wonderful ideas. And – it’s a joy to read them 🙂 I signed up for your newsletter, also, looking forward to hearing from you.
    I’ve got one question for you: I’m blogging “just for fun”, with no intention of making money out of it. That’s why I use a free theme, and I’m using wordpress.c o m – make no money, spend no money.
    I can’t find the plugins you mentioned on my dashboard. Do you know if they are available in the .com version?
    Thank you so much, and the additional visitor from Germany you see from now on – that’s me!

    • regina says:

      Alexandra, thank you for stopping by and for reading + commenting. Glad you’re on the email friends list as well, I love sending out those emails.

      So unfortunately, these plugins do just apply to the self-hosted WordPress option. I’ll make sure to update the post to say that. Thank you for pointing that out + I’m sorry you spent time looking for them. WordPress.com only offers very specific plugins so most developers make plugins for the WordPress.org version.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  3. Tamika Hall says:

    I just LOVE your blog! I actually made the decision to roll everything over to wordpress because of your blog. (www.tamikahall.com.) It’s taking some time to transfer everything over from Weebly, but I’m loving the clean look and all of the awesome plugins! Thank you for taking the time to share through your blog!!

    • regina says:

      Tamika, wow. Thank you so much. That makes me so happy to hear and I’m glad you’re loving the clean look. That always appeals to me. And it’s absolutely crazy how many plugins are available. Can’t wait to see all you do with it. Headed to check out your blog now.

  4. Tope says:

    man…. my eyes feel like they are bleeding… so……much….. good &…… helpful content…. must… keep.. reading hehe.
    Thanks for this and all your other articles Regina, they are so helpful.

    I do feel a little overwhelmed, I wonder if I should be thinking about becoming a creative coach…, but I’m going to take it one step//day at a time and hopefully in a month or 2 I should be on the right track.

    Thanks again Regina.

    • regina says:

      Tope, hahahahaha. Thank you + thanks for reading and commenting. It’s so encouraging.

      I think you’re thinking along the correct lines and asking the right questions. I’m going to email you back soon. I’d like to hear more about what you’re considering. Thanks again.

      • Tope says:

        So maybe I am on the right track, I just got a job helping to host a creative working hub. As part of the job I have to help organise events and sessions for fellow creatives! I’m really looking forward to it, I’m hoping to help others and push my own Illustration work forward.

        Well alrighty, I look forward to hearing from you.

  5. Laura says:

    I love your blog! You have tons of great info but it’s not overwhelming. I just relaunched my blog and you have so many tips for helping me make it look and feel professional. There really is a learning curve, but I’m looking forward to developing and creating this new ” labor of love “. Thanks again!

    • regina says:

      Laura, wow. Thank you. Congrats on your blog relaunch. Your header is inviting, your blog posts are clean (I like that), and your sidebar bio is funny . . . “dachshund hoarding issues.” Have you seen The Ugly Dachshund? One of my favorite movies growing up.

      I appreciate your time reading and leaving a comment. I really can’t receive a higher, more meaningful compliment than that. It’s really why I blog . . . to hopefully help without overwhelming. Thanks again.

  6. […] jQuery Pin It Button for Images allows a more customized way for your readers to pin your content. Not only can you customize the button itself, you can customize which pages use it, the opacity and more. Regina sums it up pretty well: “When you roll your mouse over an image on a site and see a custom “Pin it” button, not only is that blogger making it easier to pin cool content, but you’re actually reminded to pin things, and you’re seeing the bloggers branding and usefulness be reinforced throughout their blog.” Read more on Regina’s suggestions on how to use the jQuery Pin It Button for Images here. […]

  7. […] jQuery Pin It Button for Images allows a more customized way for your readers to pin your content. Not only can you customize the button itself, you can customize which pages use it, the opacity and more. Regina sums it up pretty well: “When you roll your mouse over an image on a site and see a custom “Pin it” button, not only is that blogger making it easier to pin cool content, but you’re actually reminded to pin things, and you’re seeing the bloggers branding and usefulness be reinforced throughout their blog.” Read more on Regina’s suggestions on how to use the jQuery Pin It Button for Images here. […]

  8. dannielle says:

    Thanks for this, I’ve been blogging for 2 years and now I have killer content I’m dying to get the little things up to speed!

  9. Tamika Hall says:

    Yep…still THE BEST article on plugins, lol. I am working on a new site and came back here to make sure I downloaded all the essential plugins 🙂

  10. Nice blog here! Also your web site loads up very fast! What host are you using?
    Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my website
    loaded up as fast as yours lol

  11. Carmen says:

    Girl. You have NO idea how helpful this was! I’m so happy I stumbled upon your blog! So grateful <3

    The Fashion Reformation

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  14. Hi Regina !
    This really was a helpful post. I was especially intrigued by the Symple Shortcodes plugin and so I went looking for it. I could not find it and then realized that had rebranded their name to WP Canvas – Shortcodes.

    I just wanted to let you know so that if someone went looking for it they would know about the update.

    Thanks again for the quality content.

  15. Also, quick question. How are you able to put the “Sign me up for weekly business, blog and pr tips” beneath the comment box ? Any feedback will be greatly appreciated.

  16. Gayle says:

    Hi Regina!
    You already know I think you’re awesome and I just found you about an hour ago via Pinterest! It’s 1:15am here in India and I can’t stop reading your blog! I just keep going deeper, following the trails of fantastic information (and lovin’ the humor!!)
    Can’t wait ’til to start applying info gathered from your sites (only just published my first post today – yeah for me!! I’m on my way!!)
    See you around!

  17. Hi Regina!

    I think your blog is amazing and it’s been such a huge help to me with creating mine!

    I downloaded all the plugins you’ve recommended and they’ve made a huge difference. I had a couple questions though. I’ve downloaded Symple Shortcodes and loaded it onto my WordPress, however, It’s still not coming up when I go to write a post. I see in your picture you have options like bold and italics and I don’t even have that tool bar. Any ideas why that is or how I can get it?

    Also for the Pretty Link Lite, I’m not sure how to use it to actually change the URL or does it just do it on its own?

    I’d really appreciate it if you could help me out!


  18. […] If you use WordPress, check out the search engine optimization plugin (+ other great pro plugins) on this list. […]

  19. Namaskar Regina:
    Very impressive blog, really. Very helpful reading it
    Learning as I go through it.
    Just a question. I just finished my web page with Wix.com and now I discovered that I cant add more than one photo to my blog in it. Do you know any solution for that? Also I was thinking in having my Yoga page (Im a yoga/meditation instructor for women with cancer)Should I change to wordpress????
    Thank you so much for your work I can see that a lot of people are helped by you.

  20. Pia says:

    It is posts like this one, Regina, that seriously make me wonder if switching from blogger to self hosted WordPress would be worth the extra cost. I will be working on making my ‘brand’ more professional in 2015 and I’m wondering if this is the way to go…
    You make it sound like the best thing that could happen to me, and I’m inclined to believe you 😉

    • Kelita says:

      A lot of the plugins are free or really cheap and trust me it’s so worth it. With your own self hosted WP site you own your content and can promote freely unlike a free site 🙂

  21. Monica says:

    Awesome. Just. awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your gift and your resources!

  22. Jaymee says:

    Thanks for putting this together Regina. I literally just went through this list and added (and played with) the plug-ins you suggested as I went along. I’m new to blogging and just figuring things out, this was super helpful 🙂

  23. Debi says:

    Thank you for all of your great tips! I can’t wait to start using them!

  24. […] jQuery Pin It Button for Images allows a more customized way for your readers to pin your content. Not only can you customize the button itself, you can customize which pages use it, the opacity and more. Regina sums it up pretty well: “When you roll your mouse over an image on a site and see a custom “Pin it” button, not only is that blogger making it easier to pin cool content, but you’re actually reminded to pin things, and you’re seeing the bloggers branding and usefulness be reinforced throughout their blog.” Read more on Regina’s suggestions on how to use the jQuery Pin It Button for Images here. […]

  25. Sophie says:

    Hi Regina,

    I LOVE your blog! It’s so informative and helpful for a new blogger like myself!
    I followed your advice and just downloaded the Shareaholic plugin. I was wondering, how can I customize the look of the sharing buttons and change the colors? I love the way the buttons look on your site!

    Thanks so much!

  26. Rach says:

    Psych is the best show evvvver 🙂
    Hey, Regina… I thought I have seen in one of your posts what you use to record your screen in a video but I can’t find it??? Also, is there one you’d recommend where I could video me plus my screen??? Thanks!

  27. Jennifer says:

    BRILLIANT! One of the best, most helpful roundups of plugins I’ve found. THANK YOU! Looking forward to delving into all of your fantastic content!

  28. Cymone says:

    just added all of these – I did already have a couple! thanks for all of the great tips! keep them coming!

  29. Regina,
    Your blog is so helpful! I think I have design skills and am tech savvy, but wordpress sometimes makes me doubt this. Thanks for this awesome post. You totally make the organization and design element of the blogging process so much more straightforward. I have bookmarked your site since you are so awesome and have the best resources! Thanks


  30. Kelbricut says:

    Hey Regina!

    Just wanted to mention that I went to download your plugin suggestion, JQUERY PIN IT BUTTON FOR IMAGES, and it is no longer being updated. They now suggest FRIZZLY. Just an fyi. 🙂


  31. sarah says:

    Thanks for all of your ridiculously helpful posts, Regina! I’ve just started creating my website and all of your tips have made me way more confident to actually pull this off!

  32. CoCeCa says:

    Hi Regina! Interesting blog you have here. Thanks for sharing.

  33. Kerry says:

    Hey Regina!

    I love your blog. I am just getting started with my own blogging adventures and have found your information really useful. I am just reading through a ton of your material now to fully understand how to make my blog successful. I just wanted to say thank you!


  34. Angela says:

    Amazing information on this whole site!! When I blog about how I started can I mention your site?!?? Love it!!

  35. I am really pleased to read this website posts which consists of lots of valuable data, thanks for providing these data.

  36. Lorien says:

    I found you on Pinterest. I developed an infatuation with your blog with the pictures of the men on 30 Things To Do When You Get Serious About Blogging, (title may be imperfect because I have so many tabs opened from the links that I can’t read titles) but it matured into full on love with the Psych reference. I do not how to code, but my teenage son does. I believe in child labor and payback for taking the ice cream and my favorite spot on the couch, so he does all of my coding. He and I have been searching for ways to integrate these types of features into my blog. Thank you for saving us further years of frustrated searching!

  37. Thank you so much for sharing these! I just launched my blog today, and your posts have been so incredibly helpful! I’m still learning (like this morning, I woke up to the realisation that I had nowhere for readers to subscribe… oops!) because I haven’t self-hosted a blog before, but your advice is really easy to understand and follow. Thanks again!

  38. Brittany says:

    I found you on pinterest, and you are a life saver to me. I’m new to wordpress, and your posts have been so helpful to me!

  39. Jeca says:

    Just went on a plug-in downloading spree! Thanks Regina!

  40. Gulmohargirl says:

    Super useful plugin list. So much to learn!

  41. Tolu Folarin says:

    Wow, lots of useful plugins you have listed here. I love that you explained the function of each plugin as well as gave detailed instructions of how to use them effectively.

    Thanks for sharing Regina. I love your blog!

  42. Kelly George says:

    Thankyou so much Regina! I’m setting up my first WordPress site now and while i’ve been reading your site for at least two weeks (yep, daily), this post has been invaluable in helping me to get my plug-ins sorted. Love your work!

  43. Andrea says:

    This is a geat blog. Slowly and slowly I am becoming a regular.

  44. Nevaeh says:

    Poor Otis. I actually got my photo taken with him in 2007 on the evening of the primary election in Frankfort. Remember how he had charges filed against him for saying something in a grocery staoe?Goteword gets some great advertising and promotion for his law practice out of his races at least.

  45. Hi there mates, pleasant article and pleasant arguments commented here,
    I am really enjoying by these.

  46. thanks for sharing. It is very useful.

  47. Kamille says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! Such a helpful post! Being a newbie with blogging and no experience with tools and such this post is really helpful on what to put on my site. I enjoy your content and I am excited to read more helpful tips.

  48. I have a tiny workspace and despite me trying hard it often seems to turn into a huge pile instead of a room – I have just given in on sorting out the choas long term and instead put it down to creativity and tidy it all up when I can no longer stand the mess! Good luck – I look forward to hearing any good advise you get! xx

  49. Hey hey hey, take a gander at what’ you’ve done

  50. Karina says:

    Regina, thank you!! You are amazing and awesome. Thank you so much for all your wonderful work. When it comes to online blogging and business, I bypass Google and go straight to ByRegina!

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