Many websites are run on WordPress, and most likely, yours is too. You know how, with your smartphone, you get frustrated trying to do something and find out from someone else there’s an app that does what you want? Plugins work the same way for WordPress. They’re very simple and add a tiny piece of functionality to your website.
The Golden Rule: Use as Few Plugins as Possible
When you have a plugin that does what you want, life’s good. But before you go installing plugins, it’s important to know a few things first:
Plugins can stop your website from working. You can get a number of different error messages that completely stop your website from loading. This happens because many plugins are designed in non-standard ways by people who are not professional programmers. Also, plugins can interact with each other in bizarre and unexpected ways.
You can use the same plugin on two different websites and have it break one website but not the other. This could be because of its interaction with other plugins or the WordPress theme.
Most are free. This is a good and bad thing. On the one hand, you don’t have to pay for most plugins. On the other, if you need technical support, it can be hard to find.
They’re not all straightforward to use. Many are designed by people from foreign countries who speak English as a second language. They design good plugins, but the language barrier sometimes causes difficulties. Even though plugins are supposed to be easy to use, sometimes that’s not always the case.
With all that being said, it is okay to install plugins. You just have to make sure you install ones that have a high number of good ratings from the WordPress community. Paid ones can be better than their free counterparts, but you should still do your research on those too.
Instead of spending hours researching which plugins work best, check out this list. I’ve done the research for you, and these plugins are safe for your website to have:
Backup. Google wants websites with large amounts of content, so it’s essential you back it all up. Backup Buddy and UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore work well. You only need one of the two – choose your favorite.
Anti-spam. Have you ever visited a website, read the comments, and then wondered why you read one that has nothing to do with the conversation? Or maybe you see comments trying to sell products.
Those are spam comments. The reason they’re done is to either sell something or get a link for SEO purposes. You can start getting hundreds of these just weeks after launching your website. WangGuard is a good one, and so is Antispam Bee.
You could also try Akismet, which is free for personal use, and $5 per month for business use.
Load your site faster with caching plugins. Faster page load times get you better search rankings and more sales. Simply put, caching stores your posts/pages as static files, rather than dynamically loading them every time someone visits your website. These static files are then served to your visitors. It’s faster to load your posts and pages this way. W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache are the recognized leading cache plugins.
SEO. WordPress SEO by Yoast is the best one far and away. It helps optimize your content for a chosen keyword. It also shows you what your page’s title and meta description look like in the search results. And, it checks to see how easy your content is to read, and gives simple recommendations to make it easier to read. Search engines and website visitors will love your website’s content.
Google XML Sitemaps makes it easy for search engine spiders to identify and access the complete structure of your website. And every time you create a new post, it notifies all major search engines.
Website security. Isn’t it amazing the Heartbleed exploit has existed for more than two years and no one noticed until very recently? Crazy in this day and age. Some WordPress hacks are so sneaky you don’t even discover them until your users or host tells you, or you get a notice from Google saying your site hosts malware.
You can never be too careful when considering your online security. There’s a free and paid version of iThemes Security, which used to be known as Better WP Security. The free version will do, and it’s fairly comprehensive. WP Simple Firewall adds a few layers of protection when you login to prevent hackers from gaining access. It also filters SPAM comments too.
Social Sharing. Social Popup is a good one for adding social sharing icons to the side of your blog posts. Jetpack is free, and does a ton of other things in addition to social sharing. You’ll get some simple stats about your website, be able to allow users to subscribe to your posts and comments, and you can display links to related posts at the end of your posts.
Image Management. Images take the longest to download. To your users, this means pages load slower for them. They’re more likely to leave your website if you allow your pages to load slowly. WP Smush It reduces the size of your image files without reducing their quality. So your visitors get two benefits: high-quality images and faster page load times.
Other essentials. Google Analytics for WordPress allows you to integrate Google Analytics with ease. You still have to go to Google Analytics to view your data, though, unless you also install Google Analytics Dashboard for WP. Another really cool one is WordPress Heatmaps. This actually shows you where on your website people actually click.
WordPress has more than 30,000 plugins available, and this is a brief list of 17 helpful ones. Choose your favorite, and enjoy a better-functioning website!