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Plugins can do incredible things for your website if you understand them and use the right ones. Today we are going to talk about WordPress websites and the plugins they use. We’ll tell you which ones are great and which ones will cause you undue author angst.
If you use Wix or SquareSpace, I encourage you to read a few more paragraphs before you skip this blog post. I’d like to tell you why WordPress is the most popular platform for authors.
Why WordPress is the Most Popular Website Platform for Authors
Plugins are the secret power of WordPress. Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are good for building generic websites, but they often lack features you need for specific functions. There’s nothing in a Wix or Weebly website that helps authors build a bookstore on their website properly. You can build a generic store but not a bookstore specifically.
WordPress is customizable. You can make it do anything you want. At the beginning of your career, you may not need all these features, but a WordPress site can scale with you as you grow.
Core WordPress technology is opensource and free. When you build a WordPress site, you’re only paying for the hosting. You don’t have to pay for the software itself. There are no licensing fees for WordPress itself.
WordPress is the most popular because it’s the most popular. Since so many people use WordPress, it’s easy to find tutorials and articles on building your website and using their plugins. Most plugins only work on WordPress. While Squarespace Marketplace may have a few hundred apps to install, the WordPress Marketplace has tens of thousands of apps to install.
With that being said, you can still have a beautiful website on Wix or Squarespace. You don’t have as many plugins to choose from, and they don’t use open-source technology, but you can still build a functional website.
What is a WordPress plugin?
A plugin is like an app for your website that adds special functionality.
How to Add Plugins to Your Website
You need to be running on WordPress.org, hosted on BlueHost (Affiliate Link) or WP Engine (Affiliate Link). It’s possible to use WordPress.com and have plugins, but you have to pay $25 per month for their professional version. It will only cost you about $7 per month to pay for hosting on Bluehost, so I don’t normally recommend WordPress.com for anyone.
Huge bloggers who get tons of traffic may use WordPress.com, but generally, you’re better off paying for hosting with Bluehost.
Install free plugins from your dashboard. In your WordPress site, you just search for a plugin by name and click “install plugin.”
For paid plugins, upload a zip file to your dashboard. If you ever buy a plugin, you can easily upload the zip file to your website.
Each plugin recommended in this article offers a free version. When used together, the free versions will provide everything you need. Each plugin also has a paid version, which you may not need, but I like to recommend plugins with a paid version because when developers have paying customers, they tend to keep their products updated well.
Be suspicious of exclusively free plugins. Investigate whether the business model motivates the developer to keep the plugin updated in the future.
The 5 Best Free WordPress Plugins for Authors
#1 YOAST SEO
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Put simply, it makes your site easier to find and allows it to rank better on Google. When someone types your name into Google, you want your website to appear first in the search results. SEO is how you make that happen. For more about SEO for authors, listen to our Novel Marketing episode on SEO for Author Websites.
SEO is a complicated topic, and there are many technical aspects to it. YOAST SEO does half of the technical work for you automatically in the background, so you never need to understand what a canonical URL is. You don’t even need to know what an XML site map is. As soon as you enable the plugin, it will start doing those things for you.
What does YOAST do?
YOAST helps your site rank better on Google.
Why is ranking important?
If you don’t rank for your name and your book titles, someone else will rank for you. Best case scenario, you miss out on money. Worst case scenario, it makes your fans mad.
It’s important to rank for your name on Google because you want readers to visit your website when looking for your book. You want them to join your email list and then click on your affiliate link to buy your book.
Suppose you don’t have great SEO. When someone types in your name or title, Amazon will probably rank higher than your website because Amazon has impeccable SEO. If Amazon ranks higher, that reader will buy your book from Amazon, which is still good, but you miss out on that bit of affiliate income you would have made if they had clicked your link.
Why is YOAST the best?
Yoast does the work of two or three other plugins. It also educates you about how SEO works and shows you which things you can control, so you have well-optimized pages and posts.
YOAST is the most popular plugin on WordPress with over a million users, and they do a great job of keeping the plugin updated. They have a paid version, but the free version will do everything you need.
#2 Monster Insights Google Analytics Dashboard
What does the Monster Insights plugin do?
The Google Analytics plugin integrates your website with Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a detailed statistics engine that collects data about where your web visitors live, how much time they spend on your page, which pages they visit, and which pages they leave.
If you blog, it tells you which of your posts are popular. If you have a fiction website, you can see which book pages get visited by people from specific cities. Google Analytics will show you a map of the US and show you where your fans are concentrated.
Why is Google Analytics the best?
You don’t need this plugin if you already have Google Analytics. But in my experience, authors are not in the habit of logging in to their Google Analytics dashboard to check stats. Normally, authors only check their numbers when they’re preparing a book proposal for a traditional publisher. Indie publishers may never look at their numbers.
The plugin puts a Google Analytics dashboard in the WordPress dashboard so that every time you log in to your websites, you see your most current stats there on the page.
Again, this plugin has a paid version, but the free version will do everything you need. It’s very user-friendly.
Why are Google Analytics stats important?
Analytics can teach you about your readers and yourself, but only if you analyze and review your stats regularly.
Get MonsterInsights Google Analytics Plugin for WordPress Plugin
What does Jetpack do?
Jetpack is the Swiss Army Knife of plugins. Jetpack replaces the need for at least half-a-dozen other plugins. It went through an awkward adolescence, but it’s been drastically improved and has become more powerful with these features:
- Spam Protection
- Speed Boost
- Contact Form
- Related Posts
Why is Jetpack important?
Spam will ruin your blog comments if you don’t have a filter. Readers will get frustrated if you don’t have a contact form, and if your site loads slowly, people will leave. Jetpack remedies these problems.
Why is Jetpack the best?
Jetpack is made by Automattic, the company behind WordPress. They have the best developers and the most money to fund their development. If you install the other plugins we’re recommending, the free version of Jetpack is all you need.
What does MyBookProgress do?
MyBookProgress is a plugin specifically for authors. It puts a progress bar on your website to show your readers the status of your WIP. It also integrates with MailChimp and your blog.
If you’re writing a blog post want to tell your readers you just finished a key milestone, MyBookProgress will generate a shortcode with your progress at that moment, and you can paste that shortcode into your blog post with your announcement. It’s a natural way of keeping your fans up to date.
Why is MyBookProgress important?
WIP status is the number-two reason people visit author websites. If you keep your progress updated, you will have more traffic and a lot of repeat traffic. You will also have more opportunities to invite web visitors to sign up for your email list. As a result, your list will grow, and you’ll have more successful launches.
Why is MyBookProgress the best?
This is one of the only (if not the only) progress bar designed specifically for authors. It has a dashboard that keeps your readers up to date and helps keep you on track as well. I may be biased, but I especially like MyBookProgress because my team at AuthorMedia created it.
What does MyBookTable do?
MyBookTable was designed for authors who already have a book for sale. MyBookTable organizes books by author, coauthor, series, genre, and more for authors who have multiple books. It’s the kind of plugin authors can grow into.
It creates a bookstore page on your website with buy buttons for each of your books on Amazon, BranesandNobel.com, and dozens of other stores.
Why is MyBookTable important?
In addition to the bookstore page, MyBookTable creates a single webpage for each of your books, which is really important for SEO. When someone searches for your book title, the search engine needs to be able to determine which single page on the internet is the best match for that search. If all your books are only listed on a single page, Google gets confused about where to send people, and it will end up sending people to Amazon instead. If that happens, you lose the opportunity to get that web traffic and that potential affiliate sale.
Why is MyBookTable the best?
AuthorMedia.com also created MyBookTable, but it is by far the most popular and powerful bookstore plugin for WordPress.
Plugins to Avoid
It’s not a bad plugin, but it is overkill for what authors need. It’s like buying a Ferrari because you need a cigarette lighter. WooCommerce was designed for eCommerce stores that sell and ship thousands of products every month.
Most authors don’t want to be shipping their own books, and arguably, shouldn’t be. Instead of spending hours setting up WooCommerce, packaging books, and driving to the post office, authors should be writing.
Some authors use WooCommerce successfully, but typically they are also running organizations and have a team of people to package and handle books as well as other products.
Don’t use WooCommerce unless you plan to ship dozens of books directly to authors every month.
MySpeakingPage & MySpeakingEvents
AuthorMedia also created these plugins, but they are nearing the end of their lives. Technology changes as people’s needs change. When we first created these plugins, page builders like Divi didn’t exist. With the development of page building software like Divi, Beaver Builder, and SiteOrigin Page Builder, it’s much easier for authors to create their own events and speaking pages.
I decided to phase out these plugins when I was updating my own website. I realized I’d rather use Divi to create my speaking page rather than my own plugin.
Installing and activating these plugins on your website will take several hours. If you run into questions, simply type your question into Google. Because of WordPress’s popularity, you’ll find hundreds of articles and videos to help you. But once they’re all working together, your website will be easier for readers to find and more fun for them to visit. Using the right plugins is just one more way to thrill your readers.
7 Deadly Friendships by Mary Demuth
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5 Year Plan to Become a Bestselling Author
This plan was crafted by Thomas & Jim to be a step-by-step guide through the first five years of your writing career. In each quarter of the year, you’ll learn what to do to succeed and how to avoid the mistakes that hijack an author’s success. Learn more at NovelMarketing.com/courses.
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Some good suggestions here. You said something interesting regarding the spam protection provided by JetPack (which seems to just be a link to Akismet). You said as individuals we can use it for free. But as authors, aren’t our sites by definition considered commercial sites? I list by books on my site in the hope that visitors will buy them. I have avoided using Akismet for this reason. I have been unable to find anything that details how Akismet defines a “commercial site” and was really wondering what you guys thought about this.