Plugins are snippets of code that, once activated, automatically embed themselves into your blog. They can be installed directly from your WordPress dashboard by clicking on "plugins" in the sidebar, then choosing "add new." From there you can search by category or type in the name of the plugin you're looking for. Once you've installed a plugin, you'll need to click "activate" and, in some cases, follow the instructions to configure the application.
From moderating comments to social sharing to raising your search engine visibility, here are four plugins that every owner should have installed on his or her small-business blog:
The Akismet plugin automatically checks every comment that comes into your blog to see if it's spam. Those messages are marked and moved into a separate folder where they can be deleted with one button. The system is remarkably reliable and can save a lot of time.
Akismet is now charging $5 a month for use on small-business blogs. There are a few free alternatives, such as the Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin and comment override plugins such as Disqus. The downside is that these systems discourage commenting because they require commenters to jump through additional hoops in order to complete the task.
Related: 3 Hidden Security Risks for WordPress Users
2. All in One SEO
WordPress is already search-engine friendly but it can't hurt to give your blog an extra boost. The All in One SEO plugin fine-tunes your blog settings making it easier for search engines to index your content.
On the low end, you can fill out the title, keywords and description box for your blog, then let the plugin handle the rest. If you're a more advanced user, All in One SEO allows you to change the index settings to your exact specifications. The system also allows you to override the global blog keywords and description on any individual post for even more targeted results.
The basic plugin is free. Power users can upgrade to the Pro version for $39 plus $10 a month which includes free support and no ads on the options page.
3. Google Analytics for WordPress
This free plugin brings the power of Google Analytics right into your blog's dashboard. Every time you update your site you'll see a traffic graph, stats, Top Post, Top Referrers and Top Searches. That's data you can use on the fly to make your blog even more popular.
WordPress has its own stats program but Google Analytics is more detailed and accurate because it does a better job of removing bot traffic and counting Visits in addition to Page Views and other numbers WordPress doesn't capture.
If you have a multi-author blog, you can also customize Google Analytics so writers can see their own individual post stats.
Related: 5 Effective SEO Strategies to Optimize Your Business Blog
4. Social Sharing Plugins
Make it easier for your visitors to share their favorite stories with plugins such as AddThis or ShareThis. The plugin automatically inserts icons for Facebook, Twitter and other top social networks at the start or the end of every post. The plugins are free to download, all you have to provide is interesting content.
Note that not all plugins are compatible with all versions of WordPress. Make sure your version of WordPress is up-to-date before downloading a new plugin and heed any compatibility warnings. Also, be sure to back up your database if your provider doesn't do that for you. If a plugin doesn't work properly, it could be in conflict with your theme or other options. Simply deactivate the plugin from the dashboard then delete it safely.
Which plugins would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.