I've added a few new features over the last few weeks that I hope will prove helpful in finding nifty stuff on our site and participating more fully. For about two weeks now, I've had the Subscribe to Comments plugin installed and running. This plugin will send you an e-mail when someone responds to a post you've commented on. It's also very easy to use; just check a box when you leave a comment and it'll take care of the rest. You'll also be able to unsubscribe from the comments via a link in the e-mail message sent to you. I've also added a list of related posts at the bottom of each post courtesy of the (wait for it) Related Posts plugin. If you find something you like and want to read more stuff like it without necessarily having to flip through pages of categories, this fits the bill nicely.
It also occurred to me that while we know when a post is getting a lot of comments, most of you probably don't. To remedy this, I added a widget to the sidebar to show who left the five most recent comments and where they were left. In the case of the food stamps post (which overall grew to over 77 comments), I wouldn't have made a new post to point out that it was very active to invite more of you to join in the discussion.
There's also been a lot of "behind the scenes" changing going on. In the vein of being a slave to Google and all of its neat toys, I setup WordPress to use Google Analytics with the Google Analytics plugin . This adds some files to each WordPress post and page to track visitor activity (on a completely anonymized basis, of course) and give me an idea of where our traffic comes from and what's the post popular content. (Unsurprisingly, about half of our traffic comes from Salt Lake County.) It's also given me some great insight as to what folks are actually using to view our website. While I enjoy AWStats for general statistics, Analytics weeds out feed readers and aggregators so that I only see what humans are looking at. It's also given me some insight as to how we should restyle our blog. (Most of you are using 1024×768 or higher, so look for some changes specifically for those with monster monitors.)
In the same vein, I setup the Google Sitemaps plugin to generate XML sitemaps for Google, Yahoo, and Ask.com. A sitemap gives search engines an idea of where to find content on your blog as well as how often to check for new content. I use it in conjunction with Google Webmaster Tools to see where links are coming from, if there are URL problems on my site, and see what kind of PageRank I'm being assigned to various parts of the site. As soon as I started using the sitemaps, search traffic jumped a good deal.
One thing I was trying out and got totally frustrated with was using FeedBurner to republish our RSS feeds. FeedBurner is really good for finding out how many people are reading your feed and also helps standardize the feed format for feed readers and aggregators. Unfortunately, you end up getting rid of most of WordPress' awesome feed abilities such as filtering by category and author. You also end up killing off subscribing to a comments feed on a per-post basis. I attempted to use the FeedBurner Category Feeds plugin, though it didn't see to work quite as advertised, likely because it was built against WordPress 2.0.x and we're using 2.1.3. Since one of my chief catalysts for trying out FeedBurner was to make the Politics category syndicate properly on the Bloghive, this made the plugin a no-go.
Another piece of plugin bad news: the long-abandoned EditorMonkey plugin doesn't like anonymous commenters. Remember that nifty comment form with the buttons that disappeared about two weeks ago? That's because it removed line breaks and paragraph breaks if you weren't logged into our site with a valid account. For long posts, this made them an unreadable run-on and proved to be very annoying. I've turned it off until the creator of the plugin updates it or I find some kind of suitable replacement. In the meantime, anyone who knows why this happens and can recommend a fix should contact me.
In other website news, I spent a fair amount of time updating various pages in our template. One of the big changes was using the Optimal Title plugin to change how titles show on our pages. The default for WordPress is to show the site name then the title, but this isn't very search-engine friendly. Optimal Title reverses the order to help your pages place higher in search results. I also fixed a few minor layout issues including the header image being out of alignment, making sure ordered and unordered lists look smoother in comments, and adding better META tags to the header file.
If you're looking to build your WordPress blog and get more participation, definitely look into some of these plugins I've used and make tweaks to your template. Any other recommendations out there from blog land?