WordPress Plugins to Boost Your Blog’s Usability

wordpress-logoYou want a blog that rocks – one that’s professional, pretty, user-friendly and doesn’t take eight thousand years to load its pages.  Well, the catch to plugins that simply boost your blog’s bling is that the more plugins you have, the slower your pages will load.  No matter how gorgeous the final result of loading all of those 247 plugins may be, the vast majority of readers will not wait around to see it.

There are bazillions of WordPress plugins to choose from as a WordPress blogger or website administrator, so choose your plugins carefully. Make sure that they actually increase your blog’s usability and not just its bling.

WordPress Plugins to Enhance User Experience

Plugins for Images

Images are crucial for a blog.  Just as photos and videos attract more interaction in social media, they do the same for a blog.  Streamlining the viewing process of your images will make your readers or customers happy in an age where people spend no more than a couple minutes on any given site.

Lightbox Plus Colorbox – This will give you that sharp-looking slide show you’ve seen on other blogs.  Images are formatted in an overlay, so that people do not have to go to another page to enlarge an image or switch from one to the next.  The result would be similar to the slideshow on the homepage of the Access Lift site. Images are illuminated as they are viewed, which not only gives your blog an impressive aesthetic but is convenient for the reader. Video is also supported by this plugin in the same way.

Portfolio Slideshow Pro – Another slide show plugin that is much like Lightbox but it has an added bonus: it supports mobile platforms as well, which means you don’t need to add an extra plugin to support viewing on mobile devices.

NextGen Gallery  – This plugin provides full image management, from thumbnails to slide shows, arrangement and sorting, lightbox effects, timing, transition and even metadata.

Functionality Plugins

Plugins that increase functionality will be appreciated by your audience or customer base. They also help separate you from competitors who don’t take the time to research or improve annoying characteristics of navigating a site. There are endless options for these types of plugins, but most of these are top-ranked by WordPress users.

W3 Total Cache – This may not be the most exciting plugin you’ll install, but it is very highly recommended.  Its basic function is to speed up your page loads, which it certainly does.  As the user in the screenshot here tells us, pages can load in less than two seconds.  It too, comes with mobile support, which you always must keep in mind.  Not a website or blog today can survive without mobile support.

Jetpack – This is an all-in-one, must-have, multi-functional WordPress plug-in.  It does so many things and solves so many problems that if you elect not to install any other plugin in this list except for this one, you’ll still vastly improve your blog’s usability, functionality and design.  Just a few of the things it does for your blog:

Publicizes your content easily via social media with recent Tweets widget and automatic integration/posting to Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Twitter and more. Readers can also easily share your posts via social media, “Like” and comment through a social networking enabled system

URL shortener (this helps SEO and Twitter link sharing)

Embed videos from YouTube, Vimeo and Digg, and also upload and insert your own videos easily.

Automatically streamlines mobile theme for mobile devices, as well as offers new comments to be posted with mobile push notifications via WordPress mobile apps

Monitor activity, receive notifications and receive stats information

Add several Google features by linking Jetpack to Google+

And a whole lot more than that.  It makes way more sense to use Jetpack than to install a separate social media plugin, video plugin, stats plugin etc etc – you get the idea.

Akismet – Have you come across comments on a blog before that sound like a confused foreign kid in the wrong classroom?: “This also many interesting with houses.”  This is a result of spammers using an automated system to populate comments. It’s either that or spammers using confused foreign kids to use automated systems to populate comments.  But no one likes to read blog comments when over half of them read “Click here for bad credit car loan” or “Buy realty dirt cheap!” Banish spammers of all kinds from your blog with this plugin, and it will help build your credibility.

Plugins to Convenience Your Audience

Obviously you want to make your blog or website the best experience possible for whoever visits it.  You want them to stay, read, buy, comment, share and come back.  Consider some of these plugins designed to improve your visitor’s experience.

WP Popular Posts – This puts your best content out in the front and will increase page reads by doing so.  It is highly customizable, so you can change it around to your heart’s content.

Post Teaser or Smooth Scroll Up – They don’t do the same thing for you, but for the visitor they both eliminate the 13 hours of scrolling it requires to get from one end to another on your blog.  The first one cuts this down by showing just previews of previous blog posts and creating a separate page for the entire blog.  The latter provides a “back to top” and other fast-scrolling options.

Breadcrumbs – This is a navigational tool that provides visitors with a visual path to their destination.  It’s a pretty popular plugin, and it has great reviews by those who have used it.

QR Code widget – This is a very cool way to add convenience to your reader’s mobile lifestyle.  By scanning the QR code widget on any given WordPress blog or site page, that page will then display on their iPad, Android, smartphone or other device.  This is a good way to keep your visitors on your site when they have to switch to mobile. This also makes it extremely easy for one individual to share from his or her desktop with someone on a mobile device.

Subscribe to comments – Not only will you help yourself with this one, but you’ll help your readers and visitors feel engaged with consistent updating of comments and conversation that revolve around your content.

As I mentioned before, there is no shortage of WordPress plugins for your site or blog –so remember, less is more.  As long as you make your plugin priorities about functionality and usability, and not about how cool it will look if your sidebar menu is a floating rotating 3D box, your WordPress site will do its job at providing good user experience.

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