Must-have WordPress plugins and other tips for your photoblog

Most of my readers probably aren’t aware of my experience with WordPress and blogging. It’s not to say I am an expert or anything, but I have been involved in blogging one way or another for quite awhile, years before I took up photography. I’ve experienced the ins and outs of blogging, what people like, what I like, what they hate, what bothers me, what works, etc.

Now that I’ve been photo blogging, or “phlogging” as I like to call it…erm, that probably doesn’t sound right. Anyways, I’ve been doing the photo WordPress thing for awhile, subscribing to other blogs, interacting and taking notes. I’ve seen a lot of blogs doing good things and bad things…or basically just missing out on a few simple plugins that would help their site be a bit more user friendly.

Below you’ll find a few plugins that are always the first things I install when I do a new blog. After that I will talk a bit about the ideal way to host a blog and why I like WordPress better than Blogspot (yuck). Hopefully this will be beneficial and helpful to you guys out there who may be new to all of the phlogging going on.

Still not catching on huh? Okay, on to the reason you all showed up today.

WordPress Plugins

All of these plugins can be found in the Plugin library within WordPress itself. You just have to click Add New and search for them using the names below.

(ALSO, these plugins all work for the pay version of WordPress, the one you host yourself. You may not be able to use them on the free version of WordPress)

Subscribe to Comments

This is essential. It’s one of the first things I install. Perhaps not everyone loves getting emails, but I know plenty who would like to know if the author or other readers responded to something you wrote. It is the key to creating a thriving community on your blog. Now, a photoblog isn’t necessarily the same as some other blogs I’ve done. I used to run an entertainment site, and building a network of readers who would comment, see follow-up responses and then return to keep the discussion going was key to our success.

The bottom line is that readers love to know when an author responds to them. And a little commentary on that…if you never, ever respond to your readers’ comments, they’ll stop commenting.

WordPress.com Stats

While using Google Analytics is highly recommended and encouraged for detailed stat analysis and collection, the WordPress.com stats are nice and handy to have on a daily basis. The plugin shows you the top pages for the day, your top referrers and all the keywords people used to find you via search engines. It’s fantastic to use as a quick way to compare days and see overall trending on your site’s traffice.

Comment Luv

This is one I didn’t have for awhile here and wish I had remembered it sooner. I had it on a previous blog and it’s something that gives even more back to your commentors than just responding to them. It leaves a little link back to their latest blog post via the website link they leave in the comment form. Basically it finds the site, searches their RSS feed and puts a link to the latest story. I’ve had it running now for a few months and everyday I see clicks on those links to my readers’ sites. So while it may not provide HUGE traffic, it does give a little something extra to your readers.

BackType Connect

This one is for the most part only useful if you use Twitter. Basically it tracks any tweet out that that includes a link to your blog post. So when you tweet it, when others re-tweet it…whatever the case, it adds a comment to your other comments with a list of other people on Twitter who passed on your link. It’s a very cool way to find out when people link to you via Twitter just in case you somehow miss it along the way. This can happen sometimes if people just share your link via Google Reader or another tool, and don’t necessarily include your Twitter name.

All In One SEO Pack

The WordPress GOD of helping your blog get search engine optimized! I will admit, I don’t know the ins and outs of this plugin too much and haven’t even gotten around to setting it up correctly. But I know it’s highly recommended by a ton of bloggers and can really help your site move up to the next level in being visible to search engines.

Contact Form 7

I have found this very useful lately. I can create a simple form and slap a short line of code into any blog post or page, and suddenly I have a quick and easy way to get information from readers. I use it on my pages for Portraits, Events and Prints, where people can contact me to book shoots, buy prints, etc. It’s also now on my blog posts where you can register for my HDR Workshop or the Urban Phoenix Photowalk.

I can tell you…if you just provide an email address and nothing else…you’ll get less response than if you have a simple form people can easily fill out and hit send. They don’t need to go elsewhere to contact you. Brilliant. And easy.

Other Stuff

Woopra.com Live Stats

This tool is heck of a lot of fun. It’s not really a plugin, but there is one for it. You add it to your blog as a plugin mainly for the code to get included in your pages, then you can go to Woopra.com to watch your stats.

Whereas Google Analytics and WordPress Stats allow you to see an overall picture, Woopra gives you a real-time view of what is happening on your site RIGHT NOW. I have a ton of fun watching it…seeing where people come from, what may have created a quick buzz, etc. It’s also an easy way to see how the traffic plays out all day long. Plus you can also initiate a live chat with any visitor! Give it a shot…I’m just using the free version right now and it’s a blast.

Blogger versus WordPress.com versus WordPress.org

Here are my opinions on these various blogging platforms, which comes from a lot of experience in visiting other peoples blogs.

First off, the difference between WordPress.COM and WordPress.ORG is that the .ORG website is where you go to download the WordPress software and install it for your own use on your own server.

Blogger/Blogspot/Wordpress.com are all free. You don’t host it, you don’t pay for it and thus you get what you…pay for. If you cannot afford to host your own site, then you really have no choice but to go with one of these. I would go with WordPress.com if I had to choose.

The first problem with a free blog comes into play because usually you get a URL like “mikeolbinski.blogspot.com.” Not very professional. You CAN get a domain name and point it to your blog so people don’t see the “.blogspot”, but not everyone does that. And it still ends up with the next problem on the list: Commenting.

Have you ever commented on a Blogspot website? You basically pop-up a window, fill it out, have to login with a Google account or some other account, then enter some CAPATCHA phrase, hope you got everything correct and then submit it. It’s gotten to the point for me if I come across a Blogspot photoblog, I already know I wont be commenting. I don’t have a ton of time to spend with the silly security Blogspot employs. Sure, it helps keep spam down to almost nothing, but I run my own WordPress blog, self-hosted, and I never have issues.

WordPress.com is kind of the same way, but on the other side. You can comment real easy, but if you decide to subscribe to comments on a certain blog post, you get an email asking you to click a link to CONFIRM and that takes you to a page where you have to click on another link. I really think the confirmation link ought to be enough, but it’s not for them. I dunno about you guys, but it’s tiresome to leave a comment on a blog where I want to subscribe, but have all that work to go through each time.

With a WordPress.org site…you get the code, you install it on your own server and you administer the entire thing. You can also find a lot of hosts out there that can install WordPress FOR YOU, meaning even less work on your end. You get the Askimet spam protection plugin and that thing is pretty rock solid. Only a few times does spam get through and you can deal with it later.

You can make the comments as strict or as easy as you want. Commenting on my blog is simple. Name, website, email, comment, subscribe/or not and enter. It’s up, it’s easy and that’s it.

And that’s your goal. You are trying to build readership, interaction and relationships. You can’t form relationships if it’s too hard to talk back and forth. You definitely can’t do it if people find it too hard to even comment in the first place.

(On a side note…most of these services send you emails when you get a comment…a super quick way to respond to people is just to reply to that email instead of responding on the blog itself. The downside is other people don’t see it, but the upside is an easy way to answer questions and have discussions. I do this a lot, although I also will respond on the comments section itself from time to time. Also…you need to be aware, even if you have subscribe to comments installed as a plugin, not everyone will use it. So when you respond to someone in the comments, you don’t know for sure they see it. If it’s important enough to answer, you might just reply via email.)

RSS Feeds

A quick little note about RSS feeds. Most of the photoblogs I follow tend to have full feeds, meaning the content of the blog post, including images, is in the feed. But there are those that make you click through to the site itself in order to read the content or even see the image.

Back when I ran websites where it was imperative that we had traffic ON our site because of advertising revenue, it made sense to only give the RSS feed a snippet of text. But with a photoblog, our main goal is just for people to SEE our work and read our words. That’s it. Whether they do it on the blog or in the feed, it’s not much different.

To me…as a guy who subscribes to around 100+ photography related websites and blogs…I want to see quickly if something interests me…if not, I move on. My time is valuable to me. If I am interested, I usually click over to the site and perhaps leave a comment.

If I see a new blog post in my feed, with no content, or with say a snippet of text…I may not waste my time even clicking over.

That’s just the way I see things. I totally get people wanting to show smaller versions of their images in their RSS Feeds for copyright issues…but you can still do that and display the full content of the article. If you are confused by all this, just let me know and I’ll try to help in anyway I can.

Final Thoughts

All of these tools work together to help make your reader’s experience better, plus allow you to easily see what’s going on.

Running a photoblog is a little bit different than the other sites I’ve done in the past, but it’s still the basic idea. You want people to comment more? Well, show them you’ll respond when they do. Make sure they know you will do your best to answer questions and acknowledge their visit. Go a step further and click on the link to their website, see their stuff and perhaps leave a comment over there. Build a relationship, build a community.

Hopefully this all made sense to you…if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me anything! I promise to answer, and more than likely, in the comments below so all can see the response.

In meantime, happy phlogging!

Alright, fine…I’ll stop saying it.

  • http://scottwyden.com Scott

    You shared a lot of great and important information for WordPress users, but keep in mind that the more plugins active on a website the more problems can occur. Plugins can slow down a site, reduce optimization, conflict with each other and there is the possibility of backdoor attacks.

  • Mike

    Very true, but this isn’t a ton of plugins really…I think upwards of 10+…over 20, etc., is where you start having a lot of problems.

  • http://therunoff.com chris runoff

    Thanks for this! I haven’t put the time into my site that I need to, and it’s nice to get some recommendations from someone whose site I enjoy visiting.

    One question. Is there a plugin you recommend for auto-posting new articles to Twitter?

  • Mike

    @ Chris – I used “Twitter Tools” for awhile and it worked well. I don’t do it anymore because I like to customize my tweets and not always use the title of my blog post. But it did work just fine. There are also additional plugins FOR Twitter Tools, like Bit.ly, Hashtags, etc. Let’s you posts tweets with shortened URLs and add hashtags that you want.

  • http://therunoff.com chris runoff

    Thanks. I think I’m going to give WP – Twitter a spin; I just found it in the plug-in db.
    It says it will allow custom messages and use either bit.ly or Cli.gs.

  • http://beecreekphotography.com Tod Grubbs

    Thanks Mike! Great info.

  • http://toomuchglass.net/ Mark Garbowski

    Good stuff, Mike. I discovered Comment Luv through your use of it here, and think it’s great. I also noticed that soon after you started using it, it showed up not only on my site but on lots of blogs in our network, which I think just adds to the benefits of it.

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  • http://heathofee.com Heath O’Fee

    Great read, Mike. A lot of great points for us ‘phloggers’ 😉 Definitely going to add Contact Form 7 and see if I can put it to use.

  • http://ericleslie.com Eric Leslie

    Great comprehensive list. I already use most of these tools and share your sentiment for blogger.com blogs and RSS feeds. I follow many sites too and I found that I’m interested in their photography and a paragraph isn’t enough to get me to click through. I’ve dropped all the feeds that only show snippets. If their blog posting is good, I’ll follow the link to their site and leave a comment. I also HATE HATE HATE the comment process on blogger. I don’t like their non-support of gravatars too.

    I would also argue that the number of plugins is irrelevant to performance. It just takes one plugin to slow down your blog. You have to be wise and test each plugin. For example, I originally placed the facebook like button on every post on the home page. I learned it added 9 seconds to my load times. On that note, I’ve also started using caching which is boosting my site’s performance.

    I just started using a different SEO plugin, meta SEO. It’s too soon to know if it has made a big impact on my site’s SEO, but I like everything it does so it’s bound to pay off.

    Thanks again for sharing all of this! Good stuff

  • Jan Winther

    I have been lurking around on different photo blogs for a couple of years now. I definitely have my favorites that I check every day, such as yours, Brian Matiash, Bob Lussier and few others. Im always amazed of the images you guys post, and love to read about your techniques, post processing etc.
    I know that Im nowhere in your league when it comes to my photography, but nevertheless, I have toyed with the idea of starting my own little blurp/blog. Perhaps just for myself in the beginning, but who knows how it could evolve. Anyways, todays blog post was great. Tons of very useful info, that I will research a little bit further when i get some time.
    The one thing I would like to know, and I guess this would be my question to you: what do you need to set up a server, and how would you approach it?

    Thanks a million!!!

  • Mike

    @ Mark – Yeah, I seemed to notice it suddenly popping up too…was nice to see it around!

    @ Eric – So glad to find someone else who hates commenting on Blogger as much as I do…I still feed bad about it though, because some people just don’t know the difference and have put a lot of work into setting up a blogger site…

    @ Jan Winther – I don’t set up my own servers anymore, I don’t have time for that. I have a buddy with a server that hosts it for fairly cheap, but there are good hosts out there for not too much money.

    If you can deal with $20 a month, these guys are awesome – http://mediatemple.net/webhosting/gs

    These guys are a lot cheaper and I’ve heard good things too – http://www.bluehost.com/

  • http://scottwyden.com Scott

    Mike, think about it like this though. Woopra’s plugin is running all of the time on your sites dashboard when you can just use the downloadable app. Sometimes just 1 plugin can cause the issues. For instance the very popular Google XML Sitemap plugin causes major issues on servers.

  • Mike

    Woopra only runs when you are viewing your dashboard, not other times. I don’t even have it running actually, I just installed the tracking code manually.

    What is the downloadable app?

    I’m not disagreeing with you…I am saying I have these (other than Woopra) running and nothing is wrong. I would never tell people to NOT use plugins just because it may cause an issue…you just need to test and find out.

  • http://scottwyden.com Scott

    Yes the Woopra plugin will only run when you’re on the dashboard, but while it is running, it is putting strain on your PHP memory which can cause site issues. You are right though, the only way to know is to test it. You can download the Woopra app at http://www.woopra.com/download/

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  • http://www.vivecakohphotography.com Viveca Koh

    Thank you Mike for your very interesting post. As a result of reading it I have disabled CAPTCHA on each individual post on my blog, and only left this where people register to the site. I originally installed the plug-in to try and combat the large number of annoying ‘fake registrations’ and spammy comments I had been receiving, but I also have Akismet running which I hope will take care of most of that – will keep an eye on this over time. But the last thing I want to do is alienate my regular readers who may want to leave a comment on a post, so thanks for raising my awareness on this one!

    Have also installed Comment Luv, having seen it on a number of blog posts recently I can see what a good idea it is 🙂

  • http://www.booknook.biz Hitch

    Hi: I love your site, and as a fellow Arizonan, was captivated by your pics of the abandoned track at Black Canyon City, for a variety of reasons. (I’d planned to use the track in a story I’m doing–fiction; your photos have made writing it much easier, thanks.).

    However, I do have a question for you about WP; I recently tried to migrate my site from Expression Engine to WP, with a completely different template, building it in a subdir. As an ebook producer, I have hundreds of books and 100+ authors. When I loaded up all that data in posts, the site slowed to a pageload speed that was horribly unacceptable. Your lightboxes, etc., all seem to run fine–and you have significantly more photos than do I (of book covers, standard 600x800px @72dpi). I’m still stuck with my utterly not-up-to-date EE site (I could write pages about that experience), and with a WP site with a full database that can’t run. It makes me want to scream. May I ask where you’re hosted? And if you’ve done anything to optimize your pageload speed, or…?

    Thanks!!

    Hitch

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