What are WordPress plugins? A plugin is a piece of software that provides additional functionality beyond the WordPress core. There are plugins for just about everything you’d ever want to add to your website.
Many plugins are free, and numerous plugins offer a premium level. Depending on your needs, you can often use the free version unless you need the increased functionality the premium version provides.
In this post, I’ll discuss what I think are vital plugins, and some others that you may or may not need.
WordPress Plugins I Use on Every Site
With more than five million installations, Yoast is the leader in SEO plugins. The only SEO magic the plugin provides is that it prompts you to be mindful of SEO as you’re writing your post. Basics like image alt tags, internal and external links, and your meta description help you get found by search engines.
If you’re using Gutenberg, you’ll see this panel in your right sidebar. It will show you what you need to do to properly optimize your post for search engines.
Jetpack is included with each new WordPress installation. It’s made by the developers of WordPress, and it’s multifunctional. Jetpack can help with security, performance, social media integration, and much more.
Really Simple SSL
In 2020 and moving forward, SSL (secure sockets layer) is becoming a necessity for all sites, in addition to sites that collect credit card or other sensitive information.
SSL assures the viewer that the site is authentic and safe. Really Simple SSL works automatically after you add the SSL certificate (which you can get free via Let’s Encrypt).
Image Compression Plugins
Smush compresses images to speed up your page load time, which is a factor in your Google ranking. You can bulk smush up to 50 images at once, which makes it easy if you install it on an existing site.
Like Smush, Imagify compresses images to speed up pages. In addition to compressing, it also converts images to webp format, which is smaller and faster loading than jpg or png images.
Gravity Forms is a premium plugin that allows you to create web forms from simple to complex with a simple-to-use drag and drop interface. I install Gravity Forms on each website I build and have used it for everything from a simple contact form to a complex multipage form.
Email Marketing Provider Plugins
There are WordPress plugins for all of the major email marketing provider. These plugins help integrate your site to your email provider and allow you to collect email addresses on your website. They are generally free to use.
Free Caching Plugins
WP Fastest Cache, WP Super Cache WP Super Cache , and W3 Total Cache are all free caching plugins that make your site faster. Any of these three can work for your site; the best idea is to try all three, perform speed tests on a site such as GTMetrix.com or use Google Page Speed Insights to decide which works best for your site.
Backups are critical. You never know when something may break your site. UpdraftPlus makes backup easy. You can schedule your backups to run daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on how often you make changes or add new content to your site. UpdraftPlus makes it easy to restore with one click if something goes wrong.
You can store backup files in Dropbox, on your server via FTP, Google Drive and many other file storage locations.
Social Media Integration
I’ve used many social media plugins, and Social Warfare is by far my favorite. You can add floating social share icons to posts, pages and other content types as you choose. It also allows you to customize which pages you want the icons to appear on and what position on the page you’d like them to appear. I use the paid version, but the free version is useful as well.
Plugins I Use Regularly But Not Always
The Events Calendar
The Events Calendar is free with a premium option and it’s the best-known events calendar solution for WordPress. You can display your events in list or calendar form and there are add-ons that allow you to sell tickets to paid events.
Modern Events Calendar Lite
Modern Events Calendar is easy and fun to use. It features color-coded event categories and multiple display options. I’ve only used it on one site, but it worked very well.
WP Table Builder
Recently I created a site for a client that required a table. It doesn’t happen often, but this was actual financial information that need a tabular display. WP Table Builder allowed me to create a responsive table that is also attractive.
Smash Balloon Instagram Feed
This is not a free plugin, but Small Balloon Instagram Feed is the best Instagram plugin I’ve ever used. It’s simple to set up and easy to customize. Smash Balloon has a wide variety of plugins and the ones I’ve tried are excellent.
Inline Related Posts
In addition to the related posts after the content on blog posts, Inline Related Posts inserts an additional related post link automatically. The Pro version includes additional styles and customization options.
Related posts help keep readers on your site for longer and increase the odds they will stay on your site.
Better Click to Tweet
Better Click to Tweet makes it easy for a reader to tweet a quote from your post. To make a clickable tweet, enclose it in a shortcode in the post. It’s easy and helps encourage readers to share your content.
WordPress Plugin Tips
- It’s not necessarily true that plugins slow down your site. A smart WordPress developer once told me that it’s not the number of plugins in your site, it’s the kind of plugins you use. A simple plugin that does one thing and does it well won’t slow down your site.
- If you are having trouble with your site, the first troubleshooting step is to deactivate all plugins and see if the problem disappears. If it does, it’s plugin related. Then reactivate each plugin one at a time until you find the offender. If things are really messed up and you don’t have access to the WordPress admin area, use FTP to temporarily rename the plugins folder. You’ll probably then be able to access the site.
- If you test a lot of plugins and delete them, you may leave behind database tables you don’t need. Use the Plugins Garbage Collector plugin to find and remove tables from unwanted plugins.
- If you think you may have a plugin that’s slowing down your site, try P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler). It will scan your site and give you a nice pie chart that tells you which plugins are affecting site performance.