Installing & Configuring The Essential WordPress Plugins (Part 1 of 2)

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In the previous post, we had a look at the WordPress interface, now we will be installing the essential plugins so that your blog performs at it’s best.

If you’ve chosen to go with the free option from WordPress.com, you won’t be able to install any plugins.

The plugins we will be installing are:

Akismet

Akismet is a plugin that comes with WordPress, all you need to do is activate it.

Akismet WordPress plugin
Akismet WordPress plugin

Go to your Installed Plugins under the Plugins section and click Activate.

Activate Akismet WordPress plugin
Activate Akismet WordPress plugin

What is Akismet?

Akismet is a plugin that protects your blog from spam comments.

And that’s it for our first plugin.

Next is a plugin called Jetpack.

Jetpack

This plugin comes with a lot of features and is one of the best plugins for WordPress.

Let’s take a closer look at what it offers.

Free themes

When you install the Jetpack plugin, you will get access to more than a 100 free themes.

There are a number of places you can find free themes, but some of them might not be safe to use.

What does this mean?

If you install a theme that does not come from a trusted source it can place you at risk.

A WordPress theme has access to some of WordPress’s features and functionality which can result in someone having access to your data without knowing it.

The same goes for plugins, always make sure you install plugins from a trusted source or from within your WordPress dashboard.

In the next post, we will go through some of the best and trusted places to search for WordPress themes.

Performance

When it comes to SEO, page loading speed is very important.

The quicker it loads the better your SEO ranking will be.

What affects the loading speed of a blog?

There are a number of things that can affect the loading speed of your pages and posts, but one of the most common things is the amount and size of images and video.

When you install Jetpack, you will get the Photon Content Delivery Network (CDN).

What is a CDN?

A CDN is a library of content that is saved on different servers in various locations.

When someone visits your blog, the CDN will use the server that is the closest to the location of that person to load the content which results in quicker load times.

In order to illustrate this, let’s use an example.

A person in Canada visits your blog, but all the content on your blog is saved on a server in Brazil, the loading time for your blog won’t be as fast as it could be even more so if the person doesn’t have the fastest Internet connection.

After installing the Jetpack plugin, the content on your blog is now save on servers in several locations, some of them being Brazil, US, and Japan.

The next time someone from Canada visits your blog, the content will be loaded from the US as that is the closest location to the person visiting your blog which means the load time will increase.

An extra feature of the Photon CDN is resizing your images for mobile which also increases the performance.

Lazy Loading Images

Lazy loading only downloads images once they are in view, which increases the load speed of your page or page.

Protection & monitoring

Jetpack provides protection against unauthorized access to your WordPress blog.

Brute force attacks or hacking are always a threat and therefore it is better to be safe than sorry.

Jetpack also monitors downtime and will notify you if your blog is unavailable and soon as it is back up.

If you are using a reliable host for your WordPress blog the chances of this happening will be hardly ever but in the case it does you need to know about it.

Marketing tools

There are a number of services you can use for marketing your blog, but Jetpack offers two services for free.

One of these is traffic stats which offers the following insights:

These stats give you an overview of the traffic to your blog, but if you want for detail there is another service you can use which we will be taking a look at in the next post.

The second marketing service it offers, is linking your social media accounts to your WordPress blog.

Every time you publish a post, an update will be automatically sent to all the social media accounts you’ve linked.

And the best part, all of these features are available for free when installing Jetpack.

There are paid options you can go with, but the free plan offers more than enough to get started.

Let’s move on to installing and configuring Jetpack.

Installing Jetpack

Hover over Plugins and click on Add New.

Use the Search to find the Jetpack plugin if it is not visible.

Once you’ve found it, click on Install and Activate.

Installing Jetpack plugin
Installing Jetpack plugin

Activate Jetpack plugin
Activate Jetpack plugin

In order to use Jetpack, you will need an account on WordPress.com.

Don’t worry, this is not related to the hosting of your WordPress blog as discussed previously.

You can create your account here.

Once you’ve created your account, you can use those details to log in and setup Jetpack.

Setup Jetpack plugin
Setup Jetpack plugin

Jetpack login
Jetpack login

After you’ve logged in you, will see all the three paid plans.

Don’t worry, towards the bottom you will see a button that says Start with free…

Jetpack plugin plans
Jetpack plugin plans

Once you’ve clicked the Start with free button, you will be able to activate the recommended features.

Jetpack plugin recommended features
Jetpack plugin recommended features

And now you will have have the Jetpack plugin on your blog.

All you will need to configure is linking your social media accounts by clicking on Settings.

Jetpack plugin settings
Jetpack plugin settings

On the Settings screen, click on Sharing.

Below Publicize connections, click on Connect your social media accounts.

Connect social media accounts to Jetpack plugin
Connect social media accounts to Jetpack plugin

This will take you to WordPress.com, which is where you can connect your various accounts.

Connect social accounts
Connect social accounts

To connect an account, click the Connect button next to the account.

This will bring up a dialog where you need to give authorize WordPress.com to access the account.

Authorize social account access
Authorize social account access

Once you authorized, the account will be connected.

You can also disconnect any accounts if you want to, by clicking the Disconnect button.

What did that actually do?

When creating a post, in the Publish section, there will be a new setting called Publicize.

All the accounts you have connected will be visible here.

As soon as the post is published an update will be sent from those accounts.

Publicize social accounts
Publicize social accounts

By default, the Publicize setting includes the title and link of your post.

If you don’t want to use something other than the title, click on Edit to change this.

Change Publicize title
Change Publicize title

And that’s it for the Jetpack plugin.

Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP

AMP is a technology that was introduced by Google in 2016 to improve the performance of web content with the focus being on mobile content.

Because we are using WordPress, we don’t have to worry about the technical details of making sure our blog is AMP compliant, we can just install the AMP plugin.

Click on Add New under Plugins.

Search for AMP, install and activate.

Installing AMP plugin
Installing AMP plugin

Activate AMP plugin
Activate AMP plugin

Yoast SEO

Before we get into the details, let’s install and activate the plugin.

Make sure you are on the Add New plugins page and search for Yoast.

Once you have found it, install and activate.

Installing Yoast plugin
Installing Yoast plugin

Activate Yoast plugin
Activate Yoast plugin

Now that the plugin has been installed and activated, let’s go through the features.

Search Console

In order for your WordPress blog to show up in search results, it needs to have a sitemap.

Once you have a sitemap, it needs to be submitted to the search engines so that they can crawl and index your blog.

Yoast automatically generates a sitemap for your blog, all you need to do is submit it to the search engines.

In this post, I will show you how to submit your sitemap to Google and Bing.

Google

Go to the Google Search Console and log in.

Then click on the Add a property button.

Add Google Search Console property
Add Google Search Console property

In the dialogue, type the URL of your WordPress blog.

Add Google Search Console property URL
Add Google Search Console property URL

You will need to verify that you own the URL by uploading an HTML verification file.

If you are using SiteGround and you need help with uploading, you can go here for their tutorials.

Verify Google Search Console property
Verify Google Search Console property

Once you have verified your URL, you will see the following success message.

Google Search Console verify success
Google Search Console verify success

Now you can submit your sitemap, by clicking on the sitemap section.

Google Search Console sitemap
Google Search Console sitemap

Click on the Add/Test Sitemap button.

You will only need to type the name of your sitemap.

Google Search Console add sitemap

Because we are using the Yoast plugin, you can type the following: (Don’t forget the .xml)

sitemap_index.xml

It takes a few minutes for your sitemap to be indexed, but once it is done you will see something similar in the sitemap section.

Google Search Console sitemap indexed
Google Search Console sitemap indexed

Bing

Before you can use the Bing Webmaster Tools, you will need to create an account which you can do here.

Once you have created your account, log in.

Add your WordPress blog by typing the and then clicking the Add button.

Add site to Bing Webmaster Tools
Add site to Bing Webmaster Tools

After you have added your blog, you will taken to the dashboard where you can add your sitemap.

Click on Sitemaps in the sidebar.

Bing Webmaster Tools dashboard
Bing Webmaster Tools dashboard

When adding your sitemap, you will need to type the whole URL not just the name as  we did with the Google Search Console.

The URL will be something like:

https://yourblog.com/sitemap_index.xml

Bing Webmaster Tools add sitemap
Bing Webmaster Tools add sitemap

Click Submit and that’s it!

Just as with the Google Search Console it can take a few minutes for sitemap to be indexed.

Once it has, you will see something like this:

Bing Webmaster Tools sitemap indexed
Bing Webmaster Tools sitemap indexed

A sitemap also serves another purpose, it can tell you if there are any crawl errors.

A crawl error is when something that has been indexed cannot be found, also known as a 404 error.

Instead of going to the Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools to see if there are any errors, you can use the Yoast plugin.

All we need to do is give Yoast access to our Google Search Console.

Just below Settings in your sidebar, you will see there is a section called SEO.

Hover over it and click on Search Console.

Yoast Search Console
Yoast Search Console

Next click on the Get Google Authorization Code button.

This will bring up a dialog where you need to log into your Google account.

Once you have logged in, you need to give Yoast permission to access your Search Console data.

After you have approved, you will get an authorization key.

Copy this key and paste it below, Enter your Google Authorization Code and click the Authenticate button.

Select and save the profile you want to use.

Yoast Search Console profile
Yoast Search Console profile

After you have saved your profile, more options will appear next to Settings, namely, Desktop, Smartphone, and Feature Phone.

Yoast Search Console options
Yoast Search Console options

If there are any crawl errors, you will be able to see them under each option.

Content optimization & readability score

We have already mentioned search engine optimization, and how to create content that is related to the niche of your WordPress blog in a previous post.

When you create a page or post, you can insert a focus keyword which should be related to the niche of your WordPress blog.

Yoast will then analyze the content and give you scores related to your focus keyword.

You can see these scores below the WYSIWYG editor.

Yoast Content Optimization scores
Yoast Content Optimization scores

The scores are broken into three sections, Problems (Red), Improvements (Orange) and Good results (Green).

The goal is to try and have as many Good results as possible, and solve all the Problems.

If your Good results out number the Improvements you can feel safe to publish as the Improvements are only suggestions to improve the content which you can come back to later if you want to.

Under each section you will get an explanation so that you know what did right or what you need to change and improve on.

Yoast also gives you a preview of what your post or page will look like as a search result.

You can see this preview just above your focus keyword.

Yoast search result preview
Yoast search result preview

You can change the SEO title, Slug and Meta description by clicking the Edit snippet button.

Yoast edit search result preview
Yoast edit search result preview

A slug is another name for a permalink.

If the Slug is empty, it will use the permalink setting we changed in the previous post.

You can change the default settings for the SEO title is the title of the post or page with some extra details.

And the Meta description is the same thing as the excerpt which we discussed in a previous post.

In order to make things easier, Yoast uses variables which are named according to what will be displayed.

You can change these variables if you want to use a certain template for your SEO titles by going to SEO and clicking on Search Appearance.

Yoast search appearance
Yoast search appearance

And then click on Content Types where you will also see SEO title and Meta description for both posts and pages.

Yoast content types
Yoast content types

Yoast post content type settings
Yoast post content type settings

Yoast page content type settings
Yoast page content type settings

Readability

Yoast also comes with a Readability score which is based on Flesch Reading Ease.

The better your readability score, the easier it will be for people to read and understand your the content on your WordPress blog.

The Readability score also provides feedback in the same way as with Content optimization score, so you know what problems there are, what can be improved on and what you did right.

Yoast Readability score
Yoast Readability score

For more information about Flesch Reading Ease, click here.

Social sharing

When we were configuring the Jetpack plugin we already connected our social media accounts and we could change the update message.

Yoast offers more customization options when sharing a post or page on social media.

To change these settings click on the Social button.

Yoast social share settings
Yoast social share settings

Here you can set the title, description and upload an image for Facebook and Twitter.

Advanced

When we submitted our sitemap to Google and Bing, the search engines indexed all the content on our WordPress blog.

But if you have a post or page that is private you can hide them from being indexed by changing the following settings:

Allow search engines to show this Post in search results?

Change to No

If there are any links on the page or post, you will also want search engines to ignore these by changing the next setting, Should search engines follow links on this Post?

Change to No

Yoast advanced settings
Yoast advanced settings

You can leave the other settings with their default values as they are more on the technical side of things which we won’t be going into.

Glue for Yoast SEO & AMP

Because we have installed the AMP plugin as well as the Yoast plugin you will see the following notification from Yoast.

Glue for Yoast SEO & AMP notification
Glue for Yoast SEO & AMP notification

This plugin ensures that you get the best results from both Yoast and AMP plugins.

Click on Yoast SEO AMP Glue and activate it.

Activate Glue for Yoast SEO & AMP
Activate Glue for Yoast SEO & AMP

And that’s it for this post, in the next post will go through the rest of the essential WordPress plugins.

Summary

In this post we installed and configured the following WordPress plugins:

In the next post we will be looking at:

If you want to stay up to date with the Become A WordPress Pro series, please make sure you subscribe.

Thank you for reading and please let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below.

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