Out of the box, WordPress is already a great system with blogging and content management capabilities. Plugins expand functionality beyond what WordPress was originally intended for and can do some amazing things, but not everyone needs to add a million plugins that will slow down their website. This is a guide to the only real necessary WordPress plugins you need.
Most WordPress plugin guides fill you with 96 plugins that will clog up your website and make it run slow. I love when I read an “Essential WordPress Plugin” article and it’s just a bunch of random affiliate links for plugins nobody even really needs. This guide is meant to be fluff free and for WordPress-based website owners that aren’t developers.
Analytics are one of those important things every website needs to track visitors and the effectiveness of their content and marketing efforts. You need an analytics plugin to insert the code and show you the results.
If you don’t need to see the results of your analytics in the WordPress dashboard and would rather visit the Google Analytics website, then this is for you. It’s super lightweight and installs the tracking code with a few different options to fit your needs.
What’s cool about Google Analyticator is that it not only puts the tracking code in for you, but it puts the results from Google Analytics straight to your WordPress dashboard. It has some customizability for colors on the chart and that’s always neat too.
Not everyone likes to use Google Analytics so I figured I’d give an additional option. Jetpack is made by Automattic (the company that developed WordPress) so it’s a trustworthy alternative. My only problem with Jetpack is that it installs so many extra plugins that it loads a bit heavy sometimes (even when most are turned off) – it’s more of a quantity over quality issue. However, if you’re not a fan of Google Analytics this is the solution for you.
One of the most important things to remember when dealing with digital data is to always have backups. Luckily, WordPress backups are fairly easy to maintain. You need a backup solution just in case something breaks or your website gets hacked.
BackWPup is my current favorite free backup solution because it’s easy to use and works great. You can easily set your database to backup to Dropbox and Google Drive or even by email (not recommended for larger databases). This is my current goto for WordPress clients that don’t want a paid solution.
There are a ton of paid backup options for WordPress-based websites, but VaultPress is my favorite because it’s affordable, backs up your whole website onto their servers, and your data is secured because it’s owned by Automattic themselves (the people who created WordPress) – it just works perfectly. I personally use this and love it.
When someone visits your website caching will temporarily leave static files like images and scripts on their computer so that they can browse your entire website in a speedy matter. Caching plugins now days can also “minify” your website’s code to speed it up. You need caching because it helps speed up your website – and visitors like that type of thing.
W3 Total Cache is the default caching solution used by giant companies like AT&T and Mashable. Without getting too technical this plugin can take care of your needs now and in the future if your website gets big enough to need external image hosts. The only real downside to W3 Total Cache is it can be a bit of a pain to setup, but this guide should help simplify things.
WP Rocket has been making waves in the WordPress community because it’s much easier to setup and use. It comes with a bunch of cool extra features like lazy loading images so that they don’t load until they show up in the browser. It’s an affordable plugin and worth it’s $39 price tag – just note there are hiccups with some hosts. If your host supports WP Rocket then it’s a great option!
Contact Form Plugins
Allowing visitors to contact you through your website for whatever reason is important. Maybe they want to inquire about your services or send you a personal message about your website. Regardless of the reason you need this because it makes it easy to be contacted and you don’t have to give out your email address (plus you can put a CAPTCHA to cut out spam emails).
Contact Form 7 has been my goto contact form plugin for clients for as long as I can remember. It’s fairly simple to build the form you’d like and insert it into pages using shortcodes the plugin will provide.
Gravity Forms is a premium contact form plugin with a slew of features including conditional questions, a PayPal gateway, email integration, and more. If you’re looking to do more than a basic contact form this is the better option.
Image Optimization Plugins
An image optimization plugin will automatically shrink the data size (like megabytes) of your images so that your website isn’t overloaded with heavy images. Unless you’re a designer that manually optimizes their images before uploading them to WordPress (using TinyPNG or JPEGmini), you need an image optimizer because it’ll greatly improve loading times without sacrificing image quality.
WP Smush is a great plugin to optimize images down to smaller file sizes so your website loads fast. There is a paid version and it promises to double the amount it “smushes” along with some extra features. I have used the paid version and it works wonderfully, but it’s also expensive.
Like WP Smush, the TinyPNG is free with some limits, but the limits are a bit different. TinyPNG will optimize 100 images per month, which should be sufficient for those who don’t post content daily. What I like about TinyPNG is their affordability if you do need to optimize more than 100 images per month.
This eclectic group of plugins I put together because it seemed silly to make sections for single plugin recommendations. I will detail why you need each on in their descriptions.
Akismet helps cut comment spam and is one of the two plugins install by default on WordPress for a reason – it works. Just activate it and grab an API key (it walks you through what you need to do) and let it do it’s job. You need this to filter out some spam bots.
You should always be collecting emails to alert readers about new blog posts or offerings you may have for them. This plugin will help you put a newletter signup in your widgets if you use Mailchimp (or click your newsletter service: ConvertKit, Aweber, or Constant Contact.) You don’t need popups or complicated plugins if you don’t have a complex funnel or anything. You do need a newsletter signup on your website to give visitors an easy way to become loyal readers.
Without getting too technical, WordPress runs on database and after time it can get clogged up with old revisions, deleted pages, spam comments, etc. WP Optimize gets rid of all that old database content that’s no longer needed. You need WP Optimize to help keep your database (your website) clean and speedy.
What YARPP does is add a section to you website that displays thumbnails of similar posts related to the one a website visitor is currently reading. You need this because it will help keep visitors on your website by reading more content related to the content they’re already interested in.
While it’s sad a security plugin is necessary in this day and age, it will also help give you a piece of mind. Security plugins for WordPress will monitor and make adjustments to help secure your website. Please do not a security plugin is not a replacement for hiring a professional to “harden” you WordPress install. However, a security plugin is needed to help prevent your website from getting hacked.
iThemes Security is great because it’s not too heavy on the load and has over 30 ways to help secure a WordPress-based website. Some of my favorite features are detection of known threats, changing of admin URL, and the hiding of WordPress install information.
Wordfence Security is the other highly recommended security plugin for WordPress. It has most of the monitoring and blocking features iTheme Security with a better looking interface, but lacks to ability to hide WordPress information (though that may not be an issue if you’ve hired a professional to secure you WordPress installation.)
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Search engine optimization can be a fairly complex topic, but with an SEO plugin simplify everything. These plugins make it a bit easier for Google (and other search engines) to read your website and index it properly. An SEO plugin is necessary if you want to be seen and ranked in search engines for keywords and topics.
While I’m not as fond of it as I am Yoast SEO, All in One SEO Pack is a worthy of a mention. It doesn’t do as much as Yoast SEO, but some might say it’s a bit easier to use with its interface. There is also a paid version with more features, it’s not completely necessary, but needed if you use WooCommerce.
Yoast SEO not only helps you get better results in Google with keywords, descriptions, and sitemaps, but it helps you write better by focusing on your keyword. There is also a paid version with more features, but you really don’t need them unless you’re a medium to large business and are familiar with SEO.
What good is excellently written content if it can’t be easily shared? Social sharing plugins add buttons people can click to effortlessly send your content to their social network of choice. This is necessary to help build traffic and allow visitors to share your content with their friends.
Social Warfare is the first and only social sharing plugin for WordPress that I am completely in love with because not only is it beautiful, functional, and customizable, but it’s still really fast and light on my website. I can control the look and feel, share custom messages, display different images for social media that aren’t visible on the page, add a click-to-tweet in posts, and it’s mobile-friendly. There is a premium version* and I highly recommend it because it adds more social networks, more customizability, Pinterest images, and analytical benefits, but if you can do without those extra features the free will be sufficient.
Ultimate Social Media is a simple and easy to use social sharing plugin that’s pretty straight-forward. It lacks some customizability and it doesn’t have a stack of features, but it does the job in a way that’s mostly attractive and doesn’t slow down your website.
It’s important to note that this guide only lists the type of WordPress plugins (and recommendations) I deem truly necessary on every WordPress-based website. However, you personally may need an additional plugin or two for a feature your business requires such as WooCommerce for a shopping cart. Are there any other WordPress plugins you deem absolutely necessary? Tell me on Twitter (@GarettCreative).
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