With over 28% of all websites on the internet powered by it, WordPress is undoubtedly the most popular platform for personal and business use. As WordPress is a free and open-source Content Management System (CMS), it is an obvious choice for start-ups and small businesses. At the same time it is powerful and customisable enough to deliver high-end and professional looking websites, with applications for blogs, eCommerce, forums, membership/login areas and many more.
WordPress was launched in 2003 by founders Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, and is based on PHP and MySQL. There are actually two different versions (.org and .com), with the self-hosted .org variant being the focus here. If you are unsure which one is right for you, the folks at wpbeginner.com have created a useful comparison.
Once you’ve decided on using WordPress as your website platform, registered your domain name and sorted out hosting, you’ll be ready to delve into the veritable gold mine of options for themes and designs. One of the other big advantages to WordPress is the instant access users have to the plethora of plugins and apps that can be added to their sites.
When building my own site, I was initially unsure as to what plugins I should install. I had experience using some previously whilst managing company websites for former employers, but also decided to try a few new ones. With so many to choose from, and new ones appearing on a regular basis, it can be a daunting prospect. For this reason, I thought I’d share a few of the free plugins that I’ve tried and found to be most useful as a starting point.
5 Must-Have Plugins for Your WordPress Site
SEO for everyone
If you are looking to master the basics of SEO, using a plugin to help optimise your website is a great place to start. The two leading contenders are Yoast and All in One SEO. I’ve used both in the past, and each has its own loyal following. In this instance I decided to go with Yoast, but truth being told, you can’t go too far wrong with either.
Yoast is available as a free version or can be upgraded to premium for an annual fee. The free version has the following features:
- Keyword optimisation – set a focus keyword for each page and Yoast will tell you if you are using it in the right places, and with the right level of density.
- Google page preview – the chance to preview what your page will look like in the Google search results.
- Readability check – with my own tendency towards being verbose, I find this feature very useful! Yoast uses various metrics to measure how easy your content is to read for the user.
- Technical SEO – makes it easier for the search bots to find and crawl your site. For those who want to, it makes changing your robots.txt and .htaccess files easy, as well as creating sitemaps.
Whilst it won’t optimise your site or content for you, what Yoast provides is a quick and easy reference to make sure that you are doing some of the basics correctly. A simple traffic light system and recommendations for improvement help to guide you along the way.
2. WP Smush
Image compression and optimisation
If you are planning on uploading a lot of images to your site, and let’s face it, you should be, WP Smush by WPMU DEV is a great tool to have. With site loading speeds becoming a key component for ranking highly in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), making sure that images on your site are sized correctly and compressed is essential.
A pro version is available, but the free option will allow you to do the following:
- Compression – reduce the size of the image files without a large drop in quality.
- Preset sizes – set a maximum height and width, and WP Smush will automatically scale images on upload.
- Multi-format – compress PNG, JPEG or GIF files.
- Bulk smush – manually compress attachments individually or in bulk, up to 50 at a time.
WP Smush is a fast and simple solution to stop your site from loading slowly, and avoid penalisation by search engines.
3. Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP)
Google analytics at your fingertips
Connecting your WordPress site to Google Analytics is essential if you want to know how your content and website as a whole is performing. Google’s tracking services allow you to see a huge range of data on your site, and are an invaluable tool for marketers when it comes to measuring the results of their efforts. A good example of the phrase “it does exactly what it says on the tin”, GADWP provides an at a glance view of your website tracking, displaying the key data you need right on your WordPress dashboard.
This plugin is completely free and has some great features you might expect to see in a paid version:
- Dashboards – see key metrics and reports within your WordPress admin.
- Real-time – view stats about site traffic, such as sources and acquisition, in real-time.
- Reports – see information such as organic searches, bounce rate, device and browser categories.
- Advanced tracking – features for remarketing, demographics, links and downloads.
It isn’t the most popular plugin for tracking (MonsterInsights claims this accolade), but the reviews and features show that GADWP packs a lot of punch for a free option.
4. Updraft Plus
Backup your site
Whether it is due to malicious activity or a problematic update, losing all the hard work you’ve put into your site is a devastating feeling. Plugins such as UpdraftPlus simplify the process of backing up your work, and restoring it if the worst happens. Although a lot of hosting companies offer backup, there is certainly no harm in adding a plugin that does the same.
A premium version is available, but the free version does the following:
- Simple & easy – scheduled and automated backups.
- Cloud backup – save files to cloud services such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
- Restoration – get your site back to what it was with a single click.
With the lost business or reputation that can come from your website being hacked or working incorrectly, having a safety net is a no brainer. This plugin won’t stop problems occurring, but will save the heartache if they are irreparable.
5. MailChimp for WP
Get your visitors signed up!
If you are planning to engage with your visitors, get them to subscribe to your content and contact them in future via email marketing, the chances are you will want to use a service such as MailChimp. This handy plugin makes it easy to grow your mailing list by integrating with contact forms on your website.
You can become a premium user for a fee, but for free you can expect:
- Connect – quickly and easily connect to your MailChimp account.
- Integration – seamlessly integrate with other plugins such as WPForms, Ninja Forms 3, and so on.
- Create – great looking forms for opt-in, checkout etc.
- Fields – capture the date you want with customisable fields
The MailChimp for WP plugin also has wide range of add-ons, and you can head over to the handy Knowledge Base for tips, FAQs and more advanced guides.
Supercharge your business’ WordPress website with plugins
The above is just a small sample of plugins that I’d recommend, and the options available are incredible. If you want to do something on your WordPress site, chances are there is a plugin that can do it for you. Compatibility between different versions can be an issue, so I would advise backing up your site at all times. Plugins that cause problems can usually be deactivated and deleted quickly and painlessly.
Searching for plugins can be done through the admin control panel in WordPress, or via https://wordpress.org/plugins/. User reviews and popularity give a good guide as to whether a plugin will meet your expectations.
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