Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase any of the services below, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. After much research, I’ve found these services to be top quality and use them myself!
But first, you need to make sure you’re utilizing a self hosted WordPress (WordPress.org) website, rather than WordPress.com. Not sure about the differences? You can read about each of the two WordPress platforms and learn everything you need to set up your self hosted website through my post here.
What are Plugins?
Simply put, WordPress plugins are user created apps that you can install into your WordPress website to add more features and functionality. They can help with things from security, customization, and even help you sell products. Plugins can either be free, paid with a one time fee, or paid with a monthly / yearly fee. There are so many high quality plugins that are free to use, almost all of which I will be mentioning next.
• Related Reading: Debunking the 8 Biggest WordPress Myths on the Internet
Important things to note before you download plugins:
• Having too many plugins could possibly slow down your site if the plugins are large files. So be very selective with the ones you choose to use for your website.
• You should also check to see if a plugin has a decent amount of good reviews before downloading it to your website to make sure it is secure and functions properly.
• You need to make sure the plugin has been updated recently or gets updated on a regular basis. This ensures that the plugin will work with the most recent WordPress and theme updates. Updated plugins are more secure as well.
• Because plugins require frequent updates, you should be sure to update plugins at least twice a month and create a backup of your website before updating anything in case something breaks.
Here’s a video I created to show you just how easy it is to keep your website updated, including how I use some of the plugins I mention below!
Top WordPress Plugins You Should Have Installed Yesterday
First, is the Akismet plugin which comes automatically installed on your WordPress website. This plugin will monitor your posts (if you have a blog set up) for spam comments. Any comments that Akismet thinks may be spam will be automatically removed from your website and placed in an area for approval. The free version of this plugin is automatically installed for you, but if you are building a website for your business, a premium license is required.
On of my favorites for security is the WordFence plugin. This plugin helps keep your website secure against hackers and gives you weekly updates on areas that need improvement to keep you safe. The free version works perfectly fine for securing your site, but you can upgrade to the premium version for added security measures and reports.
3. WP Smush
Next, is the WP Smush plugin. This free plugin helps to optimize your websites image files by compressing them to smaller sizes without losing quality. This will help your website load more quickly. Always remember to upload files that are at least smaller than 1MB, the smaller the better. After you upload any images to your website, WP Smush will automatically compress the information further for optimization, no action is required on your end after the plugin is activated. To compress your files even more you can upgrade to the premium version.
4. WP Super Cache
Another plugin to help with speed optimization is the WP Super Cache plugin. This plugin will generate static files of your websites content to your visitors instead of having to load rather heavy files every single time they visit. Your websites old files can also be set to automatically clear after a certain amount of time so your newest updates will display live. You can also clear your websites cache manually through the plugin if a change you’ve made to one of your posts / pages isn’t appearing yet.
To optimize your website for search engines, the Yoast plugin is a definite must have. This plugin allows you to set keywords for each of your posts, pages, and even products. Yoast also gives you real time tips to optimize your content even further to help you get found in searches on Google. You can even change the images as well as the title and text, or metadata, that displays for your post or page in google and social media sites. The free version is robust enough to work for your website, but you can upgrade to premium for added optimization options.
6. Updraft Plus Backups
Last, but certainly not least is the Updraft Plus Backups plugin. If you choose a quality website host like Siteground, they will perform regular backups of your website in the case that you ever need to restore. However, the Updraft plugin allows you to manually create backups of your website right in your WordPress dashboard. This allows you to quickly create a backup of your websites entire database without leaving your website which you should be doing before any major plugin, theme, or code updates. Both free and premium versions are available.
*BONUS – Top Plugin to Avoid: Jetpack
One last thing before I conclude this list, I have to add a bonus plugin. Remember when I said some plugins are larger than others and can slow down your website? The Jetpack plugin, which automatically comes installed with WordPress, is notorious for creating slow loading times. This plugin is useful for adding social media share icons to your blog posts but it is so bulky that I highly recommend you to delete it and find an alternative.
As a web designer, I always try to use the least amount of plugins as possible for myself and my clients. With this list, you will surely be set up for success without overbearing your website’s loading time!
If you want to learn more about the benefits of a self hosted website, why you should choose WordPress over managed platforms like Squarespace, and how to get set up in the platform, check out my free eCourse, Understanding WordPress.
Did I miss any of your favorite WordPress plugins in my list above? Feel free to let me know about your favorites in the comments below!