I know this topic sounds like a really trivial one. I mean, there are hundreds, if not thousands of posts presenting lists of “X best WordPress plugins for this and that.” So what makes this post unique, right?
Well, first of all, it’s a part of my series on how to build a WordPress site from start to finish. So far we’ve covered things like: starting with an idea, setting the foundations, installing WordPress, going through the initial settings and selecting a theme.
Secondly, this isn’t about giving you a list of cool “toy” plugins you can play with and then maybe use just one of them long term. I, personally, don’t care about such plugins.
I’m one of those people who think that a plugin deserves to have its place on your site only if it’s essential for a given functionality. Otherwise you’re better off just implementing a hack or hard-coding certain functionalities into your theme/site (remember that every plugin consumes some of your server’s resources).
Therefore, what I have for you here is a list of essential plugins for every WordPress site. Of course, this is just my opinion, so if you know of any better alternatives, feel free to speak up in the comments.
I’ve talked about this plugin on multiple occasions. This literally is one of the most useful plugins for me. Its description is quite simple: a language checker for the web with support for contextual spell checking, advanced style checking, and intelligent grammar checking.
You might, therefore, think that it’s just a simple spellchecker. It isn’t.
It really is an advanced writer’s aid. When you’re done creating an entry (a blog post or a page), putting it through After The Deadline is always a good idea. Most of the time, the plugin will be able to find some errors you’ve overlooked.
This simply is your personal proofreader. After installing and activating it, you need to spend a while inside the settings section, but everything is relatively straightforward. Although the settings themselves are placed in an odd location. You have to go to your own profile, and there’s a section for After The Deadline there (Users > Your Profile).
(I can’t point out the best startup settings for this plugin as it all depends on every blogger’s personal preferences.)
CommentLuv is a very handy plugin if you’re using the standard commenting system in WordPress.
(Note. You don’t have to stick to the standard commenting system. There are lots of alternatives, for instance: Top 3rd Party Commenting Systems Reviewed. However, they always require signing up to third-party services, so getting to know them can take a while.
I, personally, prefer the standard system. Even though you have to take care of all the spam comments, you still get to keep all the legitimate comments on your server/database, which I think is a better solution than hosting them elsewhere.)
Back to CommentLuv.
From the visitor’s perspective, this plugin adds one more checkbox to the commenting form:
When it’s selected, the plugin fetches a list of recent posts from the commenter’s site and allows them to include a direct link to one of those posts.
This is great for encouraging some additional user activity on your site. When users notice what’s going on, they will be more likely to take part.
There are quite a bit of settings, but you can confidently go with the default ones and everything will be fine. The only thing I would advise to set manually is the Operational Settings section. This is where you get to decide if you want to allow users to choose from their 10 lasts posts, and if you want to make their links “dofollow.”
Quite simply, this is the best contact form plugin available. Once you install and activate it, it creates a whole new section in your WordPress admin panel (it’s placed right under Comments).
In it, you get to create an unlimited number of contact forms, and configure them to include whatever fields you want. This creates many possibilities regarding what you can use such forms for.
When you create a form, you’ll get a shortcode you can use in the visual editor while writing a post or a page. This shortcode will be replaced with the actual form when you click the publish button.
Social media buttons are quite trendy on the internet these days. There are so many networks and sites that if you wanted to display all of them, you’d need to use a separate sidebar just for this purpose.
Digg Digg is a plugin that does just that. Actually, the sidebar is a floating one, so the buttons are always visible and available to the reader.
The plugin is quite a developed one and there are many settings and features you can use. To get the most out of the plugin you should set your Twitter username, TweetMeme account, URL shortener, and other services. Then you have to choose which buttons you want to display and in what order.
This all depends on your personal preferences and the design of your site, so I guess I’ll just leave it up to you. It’s actually quite fun going through all this and tweaking the bar to align perfectly with your design.
This plugin is a nice alternative to Digg Digg. The fact is that not all people like Digg Digg and its complex interface. Also, placing a giant floating sidebar isn’t actually the perfect solution for every website. Sometimes your design forces you to use a more minimalistic approach.
ShareThis allows you to include a simple social media bar below your posts and pages. You can also place it manually by using the provided embed code and placing it somewhere in your theme files.
You can use a number of predefined designs for the buttons, so you’re sure to find something that fits. The possibilities: large icons, horizontal count, vertical count, regular buttons, and more.
There are also some additional more complex functionalities, but you don’t have to go through them if you don’t want to (the whole “ShareNow” section, for example).
At this point you’re probably wondering why am I even recommending this plugin … it doesn’t seem to do much, right? After all, you can easily edit your theme, include the tracking code from Google Analytics manually and not strain your server with an additional plugin.
However, this plugin lets you in on some cool additional features. By default, it starts to track a number of custom variables, adds automatic clickout, and download tracking.
To get to know all of the features and settings I encourage you to check out the official manual by Yoast.
Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin aka G.A.S.P.
You’ve probably noticed that there’s no Akismet on this list, even though it is the most popular spam prevention tool for WordPress.
I’m not the biggest fan of it, though. A number of people report various problems with Akismet, like ,for example, a lot of false positives when dealing with their own comments.
From my experience, GASP works a lot better. There’s no fancy algorithm sitting in the back, just a simple checkbox that every commenter needs to check if they want their comment to go through.
The simple reason why this plugin works is that spam bots don’t see this checkbox, so they can’t do anything about it.
The plugin works well with its default settings. However, it’s good if you do just one adjustment. There’s a checkbox labeled as “Allow Trackbacks?” Consider unchecking it.
Trackbacks are a common functionality on the internet. Essentially, you can notify any given website that you’ve just linked to it from your site. Which is cool.
And other websites do this too, that is, notifying you that they’ve placed a link. In theory, everything seems fine. But in practice trackbacks are commonly used for spamming. This means that you are likely to have hundreds of trackbacks waiting for your approval every day, and none of them being legitimate.
Disabling trackbacks altogether is often the better way out. I mean, it’s always up to you, but if you have a trackback problem then this additional feature in GASP will solve it easily.
This plugin is a very simple one, which the name indicates quite well. It lets you style your own comments individually so they’re more visible among all the other ones.
There are just two parameters you can customize in the settings section. One is called “style the comment body” and the other “style the author link.”
Here’s my setting for the former (I leave the latter blank):
Of course, installing this plugin makes sense if you’re not using any external commenting systems.
Feel free to check my other post about backing up your site, and why it’s a crucial activity for every website owner: Do you have a WordPress backup strategy? Here, let me just sum up the whole thing really briefly: Back up your site! Do it often!
And another thing: Use this plugin. It’s one of the easiest ones to use, it’s free, and it provides all the features you’d require (manual backups, scheduled backups, encryption, backing up the database, as well as the filesystem).
I mentioned this plugin briefly in one of my previous posts, when I was discussing making your WordPress downloadable media friendly, but it actually has a lot more applications than this.
The core functionality of this plugin is really simple. It allows you to create simple link redirections. This is something like your own, personal bit.ly.
You can link to whatever you wish (within your site and external sources as well), set some tracking (click counter), set the redirection to be permanent or temporary, and more.
You can use this for all kinds of affiliate links, link shortening, and probably loads of other purposes.
The plugin is operational right from the get-go. You can start creating and publishing your “pretty links” right after installing and activating it.
Let’s face it, the search feature in WordPress is not the most quality one. Basically, WordPress just takes the search term used, compares it against your content, and then displays the results according to the publication date.
Relevanssi replaces this native search with a kind of relevance-sorting search (like Google).
You can go through the settings manually if you want, but this plugin is quite operational with its default settings. And you don’t need to tweak your theme or anything. Relevanssi will replace the native search field on its own.
Note. Always pay attention to what’s going on with WordPress and its new versions. Even though the search feature is not great right now, it will surely be improved soon. At one point, you’ll no longer need a plugin like Relevanssi.
Oh yes, SEO, our favorite thing in the whole world, isn’t it? If not then you don’t have to worry about it all that much because this plugin can help you deal with one on-page aspect of SEO (one less thing to worry about).
SEO Smart Links goes through your content and links it to other posts and pages based on the keywords it finds. Everything happens in the background.
Internal linking is something that can help your site a lot in terms of search engine optimization. Basically, Google pays attention to how you are linking to your site as much as it pays attention to how others are linking to it.
When it comes to the settings, here’s my set:
- Internal links to: posts, pages.
- Exclusion of all heading tags.
- Targeting: posts, pages.
- Processing only single posts and pages.
- Ignore your core pages like: contact, about, and anything else you find suitable.
We’re still on the topic of SEO here. Displaying some automatic internal links through SEO Smart Links is one thing, but there are many more things you can do to strengthen your position even further.
The fact is that it’s much easier to make your most popular stuff even more popular, than it is to make an unpopular article popular. So in the end, you get two kinds of benefits. First of all, more people are reading your most popular content, and secondly, Google notices these “most popular” links too, which results in better rankings for your content.
The plugin is totally widget-based, so there are no plugin-wide settings to take care of. Every widget can be configured individually to display a different range of posts.
You can also take advantage of a number of tweaks like: whether or not to show the views count, or the author, or even display the excerpt. There are no “one-size fits all” settings for this, so it’s up to you to select the ones that work for your blog.
YARPP has been one of the most popular related posts plugins for a long time now. The main benefit of using such a plugin is that it allows you to display a set of relevant posts to the current one.
The plugin uses its own algorithm for determining what’s relevant and what isn’t, and you can also tweak the settings a bit if you find the results not fitting your requirements 100%.
You can configure the plugin to work either as a widget, or place the embed code manually somewhere within your blog’s template. YARPP also works with your RSS feed, so your subscribers can see related posts as well.
In my opinion, the best placement for a related posts block is right beneath the post’s body, before the comments block. This allows the visitor to take action right after reading a post.
I need to make a confession. I never actually went through all the settings and features this plugin has to offer. But I do know that it’s the best caching plugin available.
In essence, not to get into all the technical details, it makes your site run faster. Instead of executing all the PHP scripts individually, the scripts are executed less often, and most users see a pre-created version of your pages. This makes your site a lot more responsive.
There are two main benefits here. First of all, site speed is now a ranking factor in Google, which means that the faster your site is, the better rankings it’ll get.
Moreover, websites with fast response times are a lot more user-friendly, so your visitors are more likely to stick around and consume more of your content.
The best part is that the plugin works really well with its default settings, so you don’t have to get familiar with every little detail… The settings page can be a bit intimidating.
I’ve been talking a lot about this plugin in a number of my publications, so now I’m going to say just one thing: This is the best SEO plugin available.
It’s the complete package, you really need nothing more to set your on-page SEO straight.
Note. If you have a quality theme with built-in SEO support, you might not need this plugin as most of the features will overlap each other, which is never a good thing.
This isn’t the most popular plugin out there, I have to admit. Maybe because its functionality is not that visible during your everyday blogging. However, in my opinion, this is one of the most valuable plugins here.
It’s all about the amount of disk space your website occupies, and therefore the time it takes to load everything. One approach at making the situation better is to use a caching plugin. The other is to decrease the size of individual files.
One of the most space-consuming types of files are images. And here’s where WP Smush.it comes into play. The plugin takes every image you upload, processes it, and reduces its size without affecting the quality.
Sometimes you can decrease the image’s size by as much as 40%.
The plugin doesn’t have any settings page. It works automatically, in the background. You can see the amount of disk space saved when you go to your site’s image library. Every file has a new column marked as Smush.it.
This summarizes my list of essential plugins for WordPress. This has turned out to be quite a long post, but I’m sure you’ll find it beneficial, either as a nice read, or a reference file you can use while launching your sites.
Feel free to let me know if you know of any other plugins that are truly essential. The next part is all about creating content and using the right keywords during the process, to get more reader interaction and better search engine rankings.