8 Essential Wordpress Plugins You Need to Install Right Now
I’ll admit, I am very prone to shiny object syndrome. I love trying out new tools and plugins, and I’ve wasted a lot of money because of the “more is better” mindset over the years. That’s actually one of the reasons why I launched my second website on Squarespace after 7 years as a raving Wordpress fan. No plugins = less temptation.
Moving to Squarespace has made me think about which plugins are really necessary to running a healthy Wordpress site. After cutting out the bells and whistles, this is the list I came up with. These plugins are primarily focused on speed, security, and search engine optimization–key attributes of a successful website.
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1. Askimet (Free)
Few things are more annoying than logging into your Wordpress dashboard only to be confronted by dozens of spam comments. Askimet does an amazing job moderating comments so you never have to deal with spam. In my experience, very few legitimate comments are ever filtered out by Askimet and it only misses a handful spam comments every once in a while. Askimet comes preinstalled with a new Wordpress installation, so make sure you activate that puppy.
2. All in One WP Security & Firewall (Free)
If you have a Wordpress site, I guarantee hackers are trying to crack it. As your website grows more popular, the problem will only get worse. That’s why having a reliable security plugin is so important.
There are many different security plugins out there and I’ve tried some of the most popular ones. I finally settled on All in One WP Security & Firewall for two reasons:
It allows me to easily stop bandwidth thieves and copyright violators from hotlinking my images. Hotlinking is terrible for page speed (and subsequently SEO), so this feature is really important to me.
It doesn’t lock me out of my site along with the hackers. Other plugins I tried (like iThemes) routinely locked me out of my own site. I had to disable certain security features to stop this from happening. All in One WP Security never locks me out of my site and I didn’t have to change any settings to make that happen.
Once you install the plugin, go through the settings and adjust them to suit your needs. The hotlinking feature and a few other things need to be manually switched on.
3. Jetpack (Freemium)
Jetpack is Wordpress’ official plugin that comes with a suite of cool features. Some of these features overlap with other plugins on this list, but there are two features that make it worth installing: stats and related content.
Unlike Google Analytics (which you should definitely be using as well), Jetpack allows you to see stats in real time. While Google gives you more data about your audience and content, Jetpack is much more convenient to reference because it’s right in your Wordpress dashboard. So if you want to do a deep dive into your stats, definitely use Google Analytics, but when you just need a quick peek at which content is performing best, Jetpack is the way to go.
I’m also pretty enamored with Jetpack’s related content widget. It requires no styling and blends in seamlessly with the rest of my website design.
Jetpack offers other features, which are helpful when you’re just starting out, though I recommend eventually switching to other plugins and services to perform these tasks. Here’s a quick overview of those features:
Unlimited image CDN (content delivery network). I recommend using CloudFlare’s free plan instead.
Lazy loading images. WP Rocket* (below) also has this feature.
Brute force attack protection. I recommend using All in One WP Security & Firewall for this.
Automated social media posting. I recommend Revive Old Post’s Personal Plan for this.
4. VaultPress (Premium)
I’ve always been horribly nervous about backing up my Wordpress databases. What if I lose my backup? How do I even restore a backup? The free backup plugins I was using did not make me feel very secure, which is why I switched to VaultPress.
VaultPress is a backup service owned by Wordpress, so the people there really know what they’re doing when it comes to securing Wordpress data.
Here’s what VaultPress offers:
Automated daily backups
30-day backup archive
1-click automated restores
Priority support from Wordpress experts
VaultPress comes with the Jetpack Personal Plan, which costs $3.50/month or $39/year. For me, that’s a small price to pay for the absolute assurance that my data is safe and can be quickly restored if something goes wrong.
5. WP Rocket* (Premium)
Website speed is everything. A slow website will dramatically reduce your conversion rate, frustrate readers and customers, and damage your search engine ranking. Speeding up your site usually involves complicated, technical, code-y things like “database optimization,” “minification,” and “GZIP compression.” Fortunately, WP Rocket does all of these things for you with the click of a button. It’s like replacing your 4-cylinder engine with a 6-cylinder engine.
6. WP Smush (Freemium)
Remember how I said website speed is everything? Well, large image files can slow your website to a crawl. You should definitely resize images before you upload them (Those 3000x2000px photos have got to go!), but you can also cut down that file size after you upload with WP Smush. WP Smush compresses .jpg files by removing unnecessary data from the image file. The result is a leaner, meaner loading time without compromising image quality.
7. Social Warfare* (Freemium)
Social Warfare is my favorite Wordpress plugin of all time. It totally revolutionized social sharing on my blog it’s the #1 thing I miss about Wordpress. I’ve tried all the social sharing plugins out there and Social Warfare is in a class of its own. Here’s why I love it so much:
Speed. Heavy plugins can slow down your site and reduce conversions. Social Warfare is light and fast.
Design. Social warfare is easy to customize and blends in seamlessly with my design. It also appears on the bottom of the screen at all times, even while scrolling, which encourages sharing.
Mobile responsive. Too many social sharing plugins look terrible or don’t work well on mobile. Some don’t even appear at all on mobile devices. Social Warfare looks great and works perfectly on small screens.
Designated images for different social platforms. This is by far my favorite feature. You can upload a vertical image for sharing on Pinterest and a horizontal image for sharing on Twitter and Facebook. This is amazing because most social sharing plugins just grab your feature image or the first image in your post for all platforms. So if you used a horizontal image it would look terrible and perform poorly on Pinterest and if you used a vertical image it would look terrible and perform poorly on Twitter and Facebook. Social Warfare allows you to ensure that people are sharing images specifically optimized for each platform.
- Custom tweets and Pin descriptions. You can also set the text you want to be included in tweets, pins, and Facebook posts. If you want to include hashtags in your default tweet and leave them out of your default Facebook post, you can do that. If you want to include extra keywords in your default pin description and leave them out of your other social posts, you can do that too.
Shareable quotes. Social Warfare does the job of 3 plugins. It includes all the functionality of Click-to-Tweet, making it easy to add as many shareable quotes to your blog post as you want.
Pin-it button. Social Warfare also includes a pin-it button that pops up when you hover over an image, encouraging readers to share your posts on Pinterest.
So yeah, I’m a little bit obsessed with Social Warfare. It increased my social shares dramatically and is an important part of my Pinterest strategy in particular.
It’s also affordable. I was on a skinny ass budget when I decided to give the pro version a try and it was a tough decision for me. I decided that $29/year was worth the risk and I’m so glad I did it! It paid for itself and then some.
8. Yoast SEO (Freemium)
Social Warfare is the #1 thing I miss most about Wordpress, but Yoast SEO is a close second. I love this plugin so much I could write a poem about it. Well, actually, I couldn’t because I suck at writing poetry, but I WOULD IF I COULD.
Yoast is an amazing tool for optimizing your on-page SEO and ranking higher in search results. It analyzes your post for keyword use, readability, and other factors. It then provides suggestions on how you can improve your post and ranks them according to their impact on your SEO score.
Here’s what the backend looks like:
As you can see, it also allows you to customize your page title, post URL, meta description, and focus keyword. By spending just a few minutes with Yoast before publishing a blog post, you can dramatically increase your chance of making the first page in the search results for your chosen keyword.
Of course, you’ll need other plugins to make your website work for you, but these are what I consider to be the core eight. If you want your website to be secure, sharable, and SEO-friendly, these plugins are the perfect place to start.
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