One of the great things about using WordPress to build and manage your website is that it’s very popular and comes with a thriving community of developers who can freely add to the platform using prebuilt addon modules, known as plugins.
There are multiple plugins for almost any function or feature you would want a website to have. This is great, but at the same time, it can be a hindrance.
Plugins can make or break (literally) a WordPress website. There is an overwhelming selection available in the WordPress plugin repository for free and choosing the right one can be daunting. You need to be sure it’s safe and that it does a good job.
A couple of tips when looking for plugins.
- Check if it has been tested with your current version of WordPress. There are frequent updates to the WP core and plugins need to be tested and updated to suit. You can see a compatibility answer in the search results.
- When was it last updated? You can see this indicated in the search results too. If a plugin hasn’t been updated in more than a couple of months, it’s not a good sign. Often plugins become abandoned by their developers. This means no more updates and will cause compatibility issues before long.
- How many active installs. It’s not always a key indicator because all plugins begin with 0 users and take time to build clout. But, there’s confidence to be had in a popular plugin, because they’re tried and tested.
- Reviews. Like anything, check the user reviews to see what (if any) are the common complaints. Are they serious issues?
Below are some essential and free WordPress plugins that I always use and are well established.
Wordfence Security Plugin
Security is important, and this free plugin offers you a super-simple way to protect and monitor for threats on your WordPress website. With very little (and well guided) configuration, you’ll be up and running in no time.
Alternative: iThemes Security.
Really Simple SSL
If you haven’t secured your website yet, you really ought to do it now! The process of moving the web from http:// to https:// is well on its way. Google, Firefox and others have been putting the pressure on website owners to go secure with an SSL.
To avoid SEO catastrophe, however, there is a list of steps you need to take to be sure old links and Google’s index are linking people to the content they want on your site and not to an error 404 page. Making the change to a secure website means you essentially have a new URL. What was http://yoursite.com will now be https://yoursite.com. So, you need to be sure that a) you don’t have two versions of the website out there and b) that all links lead to their secured equivalent.
Sounds complicated. Well, you can make it really simple, with ‘Really Simple SSL’. It’s a free plugin and it works really well. It’s very widely used. It works simply by installing it and activating it. That’s it.
Alternative: There’s no one plugin to replace this. It’s the best at what it does.
WP Fastest Cache
Site speed is a huge issue for users and search engines (like Google) alike. A couple of tricks to reduce the page load speed are covered by this nifty plugin. Utilising a combination of compression, caching and minifying – this plugin will help to reduce the number of files being called on by browsers, as well as reducing the size of the files and storing some information inside browsers for returning visitors (making load time even quicker).
Alternative: WP Rocket does a very similar job. It is premium only though, but you will get premium support. There are also more free versions available, such as WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache. I’ve tried all these plugins and WP Fastest Cache was the winner, for me. (I use Blacknight Apache hosting server, FYI).
WP Smush it
Another one for site speed. This plugin works by reducing the size of your image files. I highly recommend you take care of image sizes before uploading them. Be sure the quality is as good as it needs to be, and not more, 72dpi is the standard screen resolution. Also, be sure the dimensions are only as wide/high as they need to be to fit the design.
Once you’ve done that, then ‘Smush It’ will go a step further and reduce a lot of the unnecessary data associated with the file, making it smaller and quicker to load.
Alternative: Imagify (by the people behind WP Rocket) does a great job. EWWW Image Optimiser is also another great option.
If you’re searching for the magic SEO plugin that’s going to make your website rank #1 on all the best searches, well this is not it.
There is no such plugin in existence, but Yoast SEO is the closest thing to that. This plugin is used to guide your on-page optimisation, helping you to write better content and giving you all the controls to better index your website on search engines.
Yoast will automate some technical tasks, such as creating an xml sitemap and submitting it to Google and Bing.
You can easily write meta titles and descriptions using a form directly below your post/page editor. You insert your target keyword or phrase and Yoast will give you a traffic light signal as to how well the page is optimised. If it’s not green, there will be a list of improvements to make. There is also a readability section which works in much the same way, to improve your content writing.
There’s a reason why this plugin is among the most used on WordPress, it’s awesome.
Cost: Free (I’ve only ever used the free version)
Alternative: All-In-One SEO plugin is probably the next best thing.
I’ve tried a few different social sharing plugins and honestly, this is by far the best I’ve found. It just works well. It’s tidy and it’s not too heavy on your page load.
The share buttons can float on any side of the screen and be placed above, below or within your content. You can even place a shortcode anywhere on your website.
Social Warfare comes with a “click to tweet” function – this is where you have a tweet setup for your readers to simply click, to tweet.
Duplicate Page Plugin
A very simple plugin. You can easily duplicate a page or post to then go and edit. There are many situations where this is a lifesaver, particularly when making big changes to a website page.
Alternative: There are a few similar ones in the plugin repository, but they require separate plugins to duplicate a page and a post.
It’s very wise to backup your WordPress website regularly. You never know when an update to your theme, WP core or a plugin could cause havoc on the website. The Updraft Plus plugin automatically updates your site on a regular schedule and stores it remotely in case of catastrophe. You have several options to choose from such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
Alternative: Backup Buddy is also very popular.
Summary On Using WordPress Plugins Safely
Be aware that anybody can publish a plugin for WordPress and most of the time developers have the best of intentions, but occasionally they are either incompetent or just plain sinister. WordPress gives you plenty of indicators to check out the quality of a plugin before you install a plugin from the repository. You can also do a small bit of research in advance to be safe.
What’s your favourite WordPress plugins? Comment below! (btw, I use Disqus commenting plugin)
Hey, I’m Ian and I’m a content marketing and SEO specialist from CO. Meath, Ireland.