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9 whistles to make more noise with WordPress

SUMMARY: Don’t let your blog just sit there. Many add-on features in WordPress enable your blog to be active. It’s like transitioning from being a couch potato who has interesting things to share, to an active person who actually goes out to share those interesting things. You do all the work on your blog to tell a story and share news. Wouldn't it be great to get even more from those efforts? Explore how to get the most from your blog on the WordPress platform and identify ways to evolve your blog in the ever-growing industry of plugins.

WordPress is one of the most popular blog-publishing applications. With the number of plugins (additional features you can use to enhance hosted blogs), its popularity is growing. Although the number of plugins is too large to list, you can explore all of them at wordpress.org/plugins. Here you’ll find the most popular, newest and recently updated plugins.

Plugins for your church’s blog enable you to be more effective in your postings, connect to other sites and bring together your congregation. You can even reach those who are simply interested in your church. Here are just a few of the options that can help:

1. Type once to tweet AND blog.
This Twitter widget plugin can save you time, uniting your blog with your Twitter account. It automatically posts your latest tweets to the blog, so if you need to communicate quickly or in only a few characters, you can use your Twitter account and know your blog readers will have the same information. Because it is a widget (a small application that can be installed and executed within a Web page by an end user), the plugin isn’t a behind-the-scenes feature. It is visible on your blog site, but you can customize its appearance to show the number of Tweets displayed, ignore @replies and include retweets. The widget also can be designed to reflect your site’s theme. The plugin also automatically links to usernames, lists and hashtags mentioned in tweets.

2. Get a buddy.
Described as “social networking in a box,” the BuddyPress plugin allows your blog to build a social network for the church, its affiliate organizations and activities. Creating a conversation outlet beyond your blog postings and comments offers a great opportunity to show your interest in promoting conversations and networking. Incorporate the BuddyPress plugin so users can register through your site and create profiles, post messages and interact. BuddyPress also offers another 125 plugins to customize the "social networking in a box" even further by connecting posts to Facebook and sharing photos and documents among the group.

3. Measure up.
Google Analytics provides a vast array of data to help you understand your website, blog and so on. But sometimes you don’t have the time or need to wade through all that data to find the most relevant information for your blog. This stats plugin created by Automattic shows what every blogger wants to know and track—the number of page views, the most popular posts and pages, the location of your audience and how they got to your blog.

With its ease-of-use and quick-to-read format, your blog authors can monitor the stats easily to see what topics are of most interest to your readers as well as what topics or posts draw people from outside your regular readership—all important factors to conveying relevant information to your targeted audiences.

4. Put coffee klatch online.
Comments often can take on a life of their own in a fruitful blog, but sometimes they are hard to follow because the blog’s format requires a click or two to read the comments. This comment plugin brings comments to the forefront by displaying portions of the latest comments on your blog page. You can control how they appear—number of comments, length of excerpts and order.

5. Get readers on the road to action.
Your blog’s audience may want to do more (contribute or volunteer) after reading a particularly effective post. The Related Ways to Take Action plugin created by Social Actions Labs helps them do that. It identifies the top three keywords in each post and searches for related social campaigns. It then uploads the top three campaigns so they appear under the post—making it “click easy” for your readers to take action.

6. Never ignore those three important letters.
This Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plugin optimizes your WordPress blog for search engines. Reach outside your church’s walls by bringing in more readers who search the Internet about topics you’ve covered.

7. Go app with your blog.
Taking your blog to Smartphones opens opportunities to reach your readers (and potential readers) on their preferred communication channel. The WPtouch plugin takes your WordPress blog and converts it, allowing you to customize the mobile blog’s appearance so it can be viewed from iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, Blackberry Storm/Torch, Palm Pre and Samsung Touch devices. Smartphone readers also can switch to the traditional blog format if they prefer.

8. Reduce spam.
Is your e-mail or other contact information posted in your blog? Do you find spammers flooding your inbox? Fast Secure Contact Form plugin removes that problem. It allows readers to contact you through a form, which does not include your e-mail address. Spammers can’t find you, but real people can. You can customize the form so the sender can provide as much or as little information as you wish. In addition, you can redirect the sender to another URL after the message is sent.

9. Limit your channel.
In some cases, you may want to write a blog for your congregation rather than the community at large or to share a blog written by many authors for purposes within your church. The control plugin allows you to restrict pages to members, non-members or persons in specific roles. It also redirects users without proper permission to a URL that you designate. This is especially helpful for people who use WordPress as a content-management system.