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10 essential WordPress plugins

September 7, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Jetpack

Jetpack is an official product of Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com. Designed to give self-hosted WordPress users those features otherwise exclusive to the WordPress.com hosting service, Jetpack's functionality is not limited to a single feature. Instead, it currently offers 13 different tools, each of which can be enabled or disabled.

A few features are must-have, warranting installing the entire Jetpack package: crafting and embedding "contact us" and other custom forms, letting readers subscribe to receive notification of new comments and posts, site traffic analytics, and improved integration and sharing with Facebook and Twitter.

Some features are conveniences. For example, for bloggers who don't want to copy and paste embed code from external sites, Jetpack automates the embedding of media from YouTube, Slideshare.net, Google Maps and more, simply by pasting the URL to the original media.

And some functions are extremely focused: Bloggers who need to post complex mathematical equations can use the LaTeX markup language, courtesy Jetpack.

Jetpack itself is free; according to the website, some individual features may require payment in the future. Whether you need one feature or all 13 (and there are more presently labeled only as "Coming soon"), Jetpack has become an essential component of any WordPress installation.

JQuery Accordion Menu Widget

WordPress 3.0 added custom navigational menus that can be dragged and dropped into various themes -- but only if the theme is designed to support that feature. Otherwise, you may be stuck with a long and confusing list of links in your navbar.

JQuery Accordion Menu Widget
JQuery Accordion Menu Widget
Click to view larger image.

Regardless of your theme, JQuery Accordion Menu Widget turns your menus into hierarchical, collapsible widgets. Just drag any page, post, category or custom link into your menu; sort it into parents and children; and the Accordion Menu will present it in a compact, organized fashion, turning an unruly mess into a neat navigation. The free plugin comes with several skins (themes), and anyone with a basic knowledge of CSS can craft their own.

Redirection

Link rot is inevitable. Content can get taken down or moved, URLs change or disappear. One of the most unfriendly first impressions a visitor to your site can have is the dreaded "404: File not found" error message.

The free Redirection plugin handles these situations and more. It can automatically monitor changing URLs and create a 301 redirect, which Web browsers and Google understand to mean the old content has a new home. Redirects can also be imported from an existing .htaccess or CSV file, and manually defined using regular expressions (regex), which can redirect countless content requests with just a single formula. Exhaustive logs detail every time one of these redirections is invoked.

A neat bonus feature: Redirection can create an RSS feed of your 404s. By monitoring this feed, webmasters can track what pages users are looking for and not finding, and can then create redirects for the most common requests. Have multiple sites? Create a Yahoo Pipe that combines all your Redirection 404 feeds into one easy-to-monitor feed.



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