Your guide to essential WordPress plugins for your website
Using WordPress, the most popular content management system, I find that I install the same plugins time and again for nearly every website I design and develop. I see these WordPress plugins as part of my core installation covering a number of needs. Having discussed this with other web designers I find that I am not the only one. That’s not to say we all use the same plugins but you can see general themes emerging. Security, advanced functionality, caching, back-up, display and images, forms and data capture, analytics, and SEO are all areas we cover with our initial plugin set up.
Some of these topics require more than one plugin as I’ll demonstrate below. All of the plugins listed below are FREE. I don’t believe in paying for something you can get for nothing. Sometimes you have to pay for plugins, and I am all for having the right plugin for the right job and I will gladly pay when necessary, however, I like to keep costs down for my clients as much as I can. I have also included in the list below a number of plugins that only work with the Genesis Theme framework which I also use in all my websites. The Genesis Theme framework for WordPress by StudioPress (affiliate link) is great for SEO and is wonderful to work with, especially working with child themes.
1. Security and anti spam
Unfortunately spam is a fact of life and something we can never seem to shake off. Though if you install the right plugins on your website you can turn spam into only a minor annoyance.
Adds a ‘Are you human?’ checkbox to comment areas as an extra layer of spambot prevention helping to cut down on spam received. Their are a number settings you can play with. This doesn’t work with Jetpack comment system.
Should any spambots get past GASP, then Antispam Bee automatically checks all comments and trackbacks and puts spam in the appropriate folder. You receive an email each time a spam comment is left on your site for you to double check the plugin got it right. This great plugin has worked fantastically for me and has never been wrong yet!
BWPS offers a holistic approach to security and combines several security plugins in one. BWPS will obscure any vulnerabilities within your website and suggest actions for you to take, and protects your website by detecting and preventing hacking attacks. There is also an option to schedule a back-up of your database which is then emailed to you. An excellent plugin which I always make sure is on every WordPress installation I make.
Always have a full back up of your WordPress website in case the worst happens. Either manually over FTP or by using these plugins.
Schedule automatic back-ups of the whole or part of your website to your DropBox account. Back up as often as you like. Once set up, this plugin works in the background with no need for user interaction. You will always have a back-up of your site in your DropBox account.
3. Advanced functionality
The standard WordPress visual page editor offers the most basic of functionality. The Ultimate TinyMCE plugin extends what you can do on your posts and pages by giving your visual editor a boost with over 40 new buttons and a shortcodes manager. With Ultimate TinyMCE you don’t have to worry about HTML or CSS. My clients love this plugin as it enables content creation without coding.
Another plugin that works in the background, Broken Link Checker does exactly what it says, making sure all or any links found on your site correctly connect to their destination. Broken links can negatively affect your SEO. You can also run a manual scan of your website as required. A full check does take time but is well worth it.
With the EU insisting that every website using cookies – most do, the most simplest of sites should be using Google Analytics cookies; this innocuous animated banner appears at the foot of the page for a set time period e.g. 5 seconds; and does not distract your visitor from the rest of your website. A great and customizable solution to keep you and your site within the law.
This plugin takes your website’s images and creates high resolution versions which are called when a device such as an iPad or Mac with retina display is used by your visitor. This does not affect any other visitors without retina-enabled devices and therefore keeps page load speed low. You tell the plugin which images you want converted and it does the rest. Mobile phones can be excluded to have less impact on data plans.
6. Forms and data capture
One of the most popular free contact forms, Contact Form 7 is a great solution to capturing visitor data through a highly customisable form. The plugin will send an automatic email back to the person who completed the form with your message; and also send an email to you with all the details the visitor submitted. Contact Form 7 is easy to use and set up, and provides great performance.
I use this as a back up for Contact Form 7 but it can be used as your main area to view captured contact data. Contact Form DB shows a table of the fields you specified in your contact page in the admin area of WordPress. Handy in case you lose that all important email. Works with other contact form plugins including JetPack Contact Form and Fast Secure Contact Form (FSCF).
Really Simple CAPTCHA is more like an add-on plugin for Contact Form 7 allowing you to add a CAPTCHA security field on your contact page as added security and further protection from spam.
Yoast is undoubtably the top dog in SEO solutions for WordPress. Offering a comprehensive set of features, the Yoast plugin is an absolute must for all WordPress websites. The Genesis framework offers it’s own SEO solution but Yoast is much more familiar and has such a great reputation that I feel it would be silly to use anything else.
This is a good little plugin that removes all those pesky post revisions, any spam comments or trackbacks that got through your spam protection, and optimises your website’s database tables to ensure your website runs smoothly. At this moment in time, you have to run the plugin manually but the people behind the plugin are experimenting with scheduling. In a few months I can see this as another plugin that will run automatically in the background.
Anyone new to WordPress and content management systems in general, asks how to insert the Google Analytics code into the bottom of each webpage. Using a plugin like Google Analytics for WordPress by Yoast or one of the many others available, you just enter the code for your website as provided by Google into the correct field and that’s it. You can then track your website’s traffic and conversions to your heart’s content.
9. Social media
You want to drive traffic towards your blog. Using social media to market your blog is one of the best decisions to make this happen. However having to submit tweets or status updates to every social media account can be tedious so why not automate the process with some plugins?
A huge plugin with lots of functionality, Jetpack is produced by the makers of WordPress. It contains some truly good features depending on what you need for your website. Personally I love the style of the Tweet, Share, Pin, Print, Email, etc. buttons that Jetpack places on very page and post (you can turn these off for each page or post as you wish). You have full control over which buttons appear on your website. Encourage social sharing and bookmarking with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Stumbleupon, Digg, Tumblr and many others. There are various versions of JetPack out there, including ‘lite’ options which you may want to check out.
SNAP takes a little setting up, but once done it is well worth it. To set up you add all your social media accounts, for some you’ll need an API key, and then SNAP adds a dialog to the bottom of each post. You then check or uncheck to whichever social media accounts you want to publish. When you publish the post the social media accounts you selected will automatically submit a tweet, share or status update telling everyone that there’s a new blog post to check out. SNAP works with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Stumbleupon, Tumblr and many more with the exception of Google+ which, at the time of writing, does not permit third party apps to publish to their users’ accounts.
10. Caching and compression
If you do not wish to pay for a CDN then these caching plugins are ideal to keep your website accessible and desirable by both visitors and search engines by lowering load speed times.
One of the most popular WordPress caching plugins, WP Super Cache caches each webpage to decrease page load times. There are basic and advanced settings depending upon your level of expertise, the easiest simply being a checkbox to ‘enable plugin’. WP Super Cache performs well and, in conjunction with the other caching plugins listed below, reduces loading times significantly.
Another tiny plugin which does exactly what it says reducing the time your web pages load.
The third tiny plugin for caching your website this time for your widgets. Make sure you uncheck the enable box when making changes.
If you use Gravatar on your website then this is ideal for caching those images, reducing the number of HTTP requests. If you’ve not heard of Gravatar, the service automatically assigns any visitor’s pre-existing avatar with their comment. It takes a little setting up on the Gravatar website and then runs in the background.
11. Plugins made for the Genesis Framework
This is a great little plugin letting you easily change footer text and meta data for posts. Simple but effective.
Once installed you do nothing. The plugin detects when your site is being viewed from a country where English is not spoken and automatically translates the webpage for the visitor. I’m still looking at the effectiveness of this plugin as I haven’t been pleased with other computer translations in the past.
For developers rather than clients, Genesis Simple Hooks gives you a new Genesis settings page. It allows you to insert code e.g. HTML, Shortcodes, PHP; and attach it to any of the 50+ action hooks found in the Genesis Theme framework. The plugin gives you an easy way to modify your theme using hooks rather than creating functions in your theme files.
Does using all these plugins at once slow my website down?
I use most, if not all, of these plugins on all my websites. There is a common misconception that the more plugins you use, the slower your website. This is simply not true. Some badly developed plugins can cause your website to run slowly but it all comes down to what you need your website to do. If you need what a plugin offers, and you can see the plugin is regularly updated and supported, then go ahead and install it. If it slows your website down, uninstall the plugin and find a better one. Sometimes you have to experiment to find what works best with your website.
Share your thoughts
Do you use any of the plugins listed above? Are there any other plugins which do the job better? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.