A content management system (CMS) like WordPress is like a candy store for beginners. There’s an assortment of elements you can easily mix and match together – from themes that give your site a beautiful look to plugins that quickly integrate various functionalities. You just need to discover the right pieces that will accomplish your online objectives and provide a valuable experience to your target audience.
Essential WordPress Plugins
When it comes to plugins, there are over 47,000 choices available from the WordPress library. These plugins can help you integrate functionalities such as online shopping, booking, and opt-ins. You could even spice up your website’s design using landing page builders, carousel sliders, and video backgrounds.
But before you get excited, you need to install a few plugins that can ensure the performance, security, marketability, and customizability of your website. Take note that building a WordPress website comes with risks, especially since you need to mesh together a lot of moving parts.
Without further ado, below are nine must-have WP plugins you should install right away.
1. Wordfence Security
WordPress may be beginner-friendly, easy to learn, flexible, and simple to use, but it’s far from perfect. For one, it’s not necessarily the most secure platform out there.
In the past, some WordPress websites have fallen victim to serious security breaches. Of course, security issues aren’t a big deal for casual bloggers who are not looking to monetize their work. But for those who make a living through their online endeavors, website security should be their top priority.
With Wordfence Security, you can have everything you need to protect your website without paying a dime. After installation, all you need to do is to go to WordPress > Scan from the dashboard and click “Start a Wordfence Scan”. The plugin does its job automatically and will provide you with the recommended fixes in a few seconds.
Wordfence Security works by scanning for known issues and attack vectors such as weak passwords, faulty plugins, and “HeartBleed” vulnerability. If such issues are detected, you can check below the scan summary for a list of actions.
Running a scan regularly with the free version can ensure your site’s security. As long as you only see green “Secure,” “Success,” and “Done” reports in the scan summary, you should be fine.
But for enterprises such as eCommerce businesses and corporate websites, you should consider getting the paid version for added security. Keep in mind that you can never be too safe when it comes to the data of your customers and the reputation of your business.
Backups serve as a failsafe that can save you from unexpected disasters. Although several plugins can create backups for your site, you’re better off with the one that most people would trust. And according to over 900,000 downloaders, UpdraftPlus is the best backup plugin available.
Take note that creating backups doesn’t have to be complicated. You just want your site to be restored as quickly as possible in case of security breaches. That’s why UpdraftPlus’ interface is so simple – it only has three main buttons: “Backup Now,” “Restore,” and “Clone/Migrate.”
As a rule of thumb, you should create backups whenever you change your site’s plugins, theme, and code. Doing so makes it a lot easier to identify the culprit behind errors as well as restore your site to working order. You can also enable automatic backups by going to Settings and specifying a backup schedule.
When it comes to the clone/migration feature, just remember that you need UpdraftMigrator – a paid tool that allows you to move your WordPress site to a new address. However, this feature isn’t helpful for beginners, so you should stick to the free backup plugin for now.
One of the downsides of using WordPress is the rampant comment spamming by dirty marketers. This practice is typically done as a way to sneak in backlinks into your site and steal some of your traffic. In some cases, it is done to deface a competitor’s website or as a “negative SEO” tactic.
Sure, you can always approve or delete comments through the built-in commenting system, but going the manual route can take a tremendous amount of time. Take note that you also have to identify and respond to legitimate comments if you want to establish a more approachable brand.
The good news is, you only need to install Akismet to get rid of your comment spam problems once and for all. After installation, the plugin will automatically filter out spammy comments and prevent them from showing on your site.
In case a comment is blocked by accident, you can always manually review and approve them through the Comments section.
Aside from spam protection, the paid versions of Akismet offers security benefits such as daily backups and malware scanning. These features, however, aren’t worth getting since you already have UpdraftPlus and Wordfence Security.
Whether you like it or not, search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for the growth of your website. According to the Search Engine Journal, 93% of online experiences start with a simple online search. So if you want the online audience to discover your site, ranking highly in search engine rankings is a must.
The only problem is that SEO can be too technical to new bloggers and website owners. To help solve the SEO puzzle, a great first step is to install Yoast SEO – a comprehensive plugin that provides users with insights and recommendations for on-page optimization.
Yoast SEO integrates directly to the built-in post and page editor to review the searchability of your content in real time. It works by analyzing on-page SEO factors such as subheadings, paragraph length, keyword density, and the content’s meta description. If a specific element is listed with a red circle, it means you need to make revisions to improve your content’s SEO-friendliness.
When writing or copy-pasting content, make sure each item is green before hitting the “Publish” or “Schedule” button. Also be sure to check the Social and Advanced tabs to optimize other factors such as your content’s Twitter description and canonical URL.
Aside from analyzing your content, Yoast SEO can help you generate an XML sitemap, link your site to your social media accounts, and collect analytics data from Google Search Console. It also allows you to edit other elements such as page titles, breadcrumbs, and permalinks.
Although the page editor of WordPress is as easy as using any other word-processing app, it’s not intuitive as far as design goes – especially for beginners who have no knowledge whatsoever of coding. But with a drag and drop page editor like Live Composer, you can customize exactly how you want each page to appear without writing a single line of code.
To activate Live Composer, go to Pages > All Pages, choose a page you want to edit, and then click “Edit in Live Composer.” This will load the chosen page and bring up the Live Composer interface.
To add new elements or “modules” on your page, just click and drag an icon from the main toolbar. You can freely add anything from bits of HTML code to call-to-action (CTA) buttons. If you need more space for modules, drag another container into the page content area.
Take note that you can’t activate Live Composer when adding a new page. You need to either select an existing page or save a draft of a new page first. Once saved, you can click “Open in Live Composer” beside the permalink. Also remember that the plugin can’t be used to edit elements that are tied to your theme such as the sidebar widget area, footer, and header.
At its core, a website is just another communication instrument between people. Although you can simply leave an email address or phone number somewhere on your site, contact forms make communication much more convenient for your target audience.
For many years, Contact Form 7 has been the go-to WordPress plugin when it comes to creating contact forms. It is a simple tool that allows you to create fully-functional contact forms within minutes.
Despite having an editor that only displays code, Contact Form 7 is very simple to understand. Each bit of code represents a field in your contact form, be it for a name, email address, or personal message.
You don’t have to memorize each code when creating a form from scratch. All you have to do is click a button from the toolbar to add certain fields and elements to your contact form. However, it helps to understand basic HTML, particularly the paragraph “<p>” and line break “<br>” tags for arranging the fields.
With contact forms, you can accomplish much more than just encourage your audience to reach out to your brand. They can also help you collect valuable feedback and insights that help you improve your website over time.
Regardless if you have an online portfolio, photography blog, or online store, you need images to boost your site’s engagement factor. Unfortunately, a lot of beginners make the mistake of using images that are needlessly large. As a result, their website’s performance suffers, and nearly half of their audience leaves out of frustration.
That’s why you need an image compression plugin like WP Smush to resize and optimize your images for speed automatically. Just install the plugin, go to Media > WP Smush, and click “Bulk Smush Now.”
WP Smush can also be set to optimize new images on upload automatically. Just scroll down to the settings section and check “Automatically smush my images on upload.” Once activated, you never have to worry about images slowing down your site again. The plugin makes sure that images don’t lose quality upon compression, so just focus on making great written and visual content.
Why learn how to write code, when you can simply borrow them? Shortcodes Ultimate allows you to use a wide range of shortcodes that can spice up your WordPress website. All you need to do is to copy-paste shortcodes to implement elements such as galleries, multiple content tabs, quotes, and frames.
For a complete list of all the shortcodes, you can use, go to Shortcodes > Cheatsheet. You might want to print a copy of the cheatsheet for convenience. If you want to use custom CSS, just go to Shortcodes > Settings > Custom CSS. Of course, you need to be familiar with coding before you overwrite any of the pre-existing CSS codes. Don’t worry – you can easily restore the default settings in case you mess up.
With plugins like Live Composer, Shortcodes Ultimate, and Contact Form 7, you have everything you need to customize the content area. With WooSidebars, you can now have complete control over everything on your WordPress website.
WooSidebars is a simple plugin that allows you to create an infinite number of sidebars for different pages. In Appearance > Widget Areas, you can give a name to your new widget area as well as a brief description. You can also specify conditions for the new widget area such as the pages they will appear, taxonomy terms, and template hierarchy.
To use your new widget area, make sure to choose a sidebar to replace from the drop-down menu on the right. Also, don’t forget to set the appropriate conditions on when and where the sidebar will appear. For example, you can display a Google Maps widget that’s centered on your office address in the “About Us” page.
With the essential plugins listed above, you can build and host your WordPress site with more control and confidence. Still, you should feel free to look for alternatives as you see fit. As long as your online goals are being met, you should be willing to explore other options.
Just remember to be cautious when installing plugins, especially if they’re coming from third-party sources. Don’t rely on the publisher’s words and look for legitimate reviews.
Christopher Jan Benitez is a professional freelance writer who provides small businesses with content that engages their audience and increases conversion. If you are looking for high-quality articles about anything related to digital marketing, then he's your guy! Feel free to say "hi" to him on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.