“How’d they do that?”
You’ve probably asked yourself that question a few times upon seeing some nice feature your favorite website has.
Just as importantly, you wonder to yourself how you can add a similar feature to your blog.
…All without having to learn to code.
…Or spend money for a programmer to do so.
Odds are, they did it using a plugin.
In this article, you’ll learn all about plugins and what they do.
Better yet, you’ll get to know the most important plugins your blog should have to prime it for success.
This cuts down your research time.
Plus, it eliminates the need for trial and error that can bog down or even crash your blog.
What is a WordPress Plugin?
A WordPress Plugin is a small piece of software that works as an add-on to your WordPress blog.
They are designed to be easily installed. And are tested to work seamlessly with the platform.
More importantly, you don’t need to know how to code or do any technical stuff to set it up.
A plugin’s main function is to add more features to your website.
At the moment there are nearly 55,000 plugins available in WordPress’ Plugin Directory.
This means that there’s pretty much a plugin available for anything you might want to add to your website.
It’s worth noting that the plugins you find in the WordPress plugin directory are free.
Free vs. Paid (Premium) WordPress Plugins
… But, some of them come with a “Pro” version.
That is, if you want to unlock certain features, you’ll need to pay for the Pro version of the plugin. The good news is, most of these plugins are good enough for your needs in their Free versions. So, there’s no need to pay for them.
Also, some plugins are strictly Paid Plugins or Premium Plugins.
That is, you won’t find them in the WordPress Plugin repository. Instead, you’ll have to search for them in Google or find out about them through research.
Also, with paid plugins, you can be sure that the creator updates the plugin regularly. This is important because WordPress is constantly being updated.
This means that its configuration and other things may change.
And if your plugin isn’t updated it might not be compatible with the new WordPress version. When this happens, it may not work correctly.
This is why it’s always important to check 2 things:
- When the plugin was last updated
- If the current version of the plugin is compatible with the latest version of WordPress
What Does a WordPress Plugin Do?
So what does a plugin actually do?
Pretty much anything.
But, for the most part, each WordPress plugin does one feature.
- The Contact Form 7 plugin lets you add a contact form to your website without having to know any HTML or programming.
- The LiteSpeed Cache plugin speeds up your website by caching (storing) its latest version. This lets your blog load faster in your visitors’ browsers.
- The Classic editor plugin lets you revert back to the Classic WordPress editor instead of using Gutenberg Blocks.
Plugins are an important part of the WordPress platform because they let you add all sorts of features to your blog without doing any coding.
Best of all it takes less than 5 seconds to install a plugin.
… And all it takes is 2 button presses.
- One to Install the plugin.
- Another to Activate the plugin.
Understanding Plugins: The Car Analogy
One easy way to understand plugins is to think of your WordPress platform like a brand new car.
If you visit car websites online, you’ll notice they all have interactive features.
One of which lets you choose, design and customize any of the models they have.
This works the same way as WordPress.
Think of a brand new WordPress installation as a new car, in its most basic form.
You then add a WordPress Theme.
This lets you change the fonts, colors, design and look of your website.
…Very much like you’d be able to choose the color, model and style of the car you want to buy.
Then come the “extras”…
These are your WordPress plugins.
You can add security, speed, sidebar widgets, author information and testimonials (among other things) to your blog using plugins.
…Very much like you would to your new car.
This makes it stand out from all the other similar make, model and color cars around.
You get to choose the size of the engine and how many horses it has. You pick the security system, the rims, tinted windows, leather interior and trimming, plus everything else.
Best WordPress Plugins for Blogs
Now that you’re all caught up with what and how WordPress plugins work, it’s time to pick the top plugins for your blog.
The list below covers all the different types of plugins you’ll need when starting a blog.
They’re perfect for beginners because they allow your blog to get off on the right foot.
As your blog grows, you’ll add or remove plugins as needed. All of which will depend on the kind of blog you have, your audience’s needs, and features you want to add to your website.
Best WordPress Plugins for Site Performance and Speed
The first set of plugins you’ll want to set up are those that allow your website to perform optimally.
These include things like loading you blog quickly, so readers don’t wait too long for a page to show up.
Also, they improve user experience and accessibility.
The W3 Total Cache is a caching plugin.
Yes, that sounds redundant.
Anyway, a caching plugin reduces the time it takes your blog to load on users’ browser screens. It does so by saving a lightweight version of your blog’s pages on your web host’s server.
This way, when a user tries to access your site, it sends that updated copy of that lightweight version, which speeds up page loading time.
This goes a long way in improving site speed. Something both your readers and Google want.
Next up is Really Simple SSL.
SSL is now one of the requirements Google looks for in a website.
Basically, SSL ensures that data that passes through your site is encrypted.
This is vital because you and your readers will use typing in personal information like your names and email addresses.
If you sell products and people pay you through your website, it becomes even more essential.
That’s because you want to guarantee your buyers that their credit card information and home address are safe.
Really Simple SSL allows you to “convert” all your blog’s pages from http (non-SSL encrypted) to https (SSL encrypted).
… All within a press of a button.
SG Optimizer (If You’re a SiteGrond User)
If your web host is SiteGround, you’ll notice that they’ve installed a few very useful plugins for you when you set up WordPress.
One of these plugins is SG Optimizer.
It basically replaces a few of the plugins including W3 Total Cache, Image Lazy Load and your SSL Plugin to name a few.
The SG Optimizer’s many function is to speed up your site and make it SSL secure. In doing so, it “optimizes” your blog right from the get go.
Plus, this one plugin replaces at least 3 plugins, which reduces site load speed as well.
More importantly, SG Optimizer is designed, updated and fully-supported by SiteGround itself…
SG for SiteGround, get it?
This means they’ve customized the plugin to work seamlessly with their hosting service and software setup.
… As a result, you get the best performance possible out of their system.
Better yet, no hassle with the settings.
Just about all the settings are done by clicking a button.
If you have any questions about using this plugin and its features you can email me.
Or, you can likewise check out their:
- Knowledge Base– This will contain all the step-by-step instructions and each of the settings you should and shouldn’t turn on for the best results.
- Chat– Their award-winning customer support team are among the best in the business. I can attest to that. Very knowledgeable. Super helpful. Uber patient. (So don’t worry if you’re a newbie. They don’t mind even if you ask stupid)
One of the things that can really slow down your blog’s loading time is images.
More specifically, big images.
Don’t get me wrong, images are great. But, the higher quality the images you use, the bigger the size of the file.
You’ve probably noticed this with your selfies, right?
So, just imaging having 4 or more large sized images on a blog post.
When a reader tries to load your page, it takes considerably more time to show up compared to something with smaller sized images.
That’s where image optimization comes in.
Some people use the term image compression.
The two words basically mean the same thing. But, with your blog you want to optimize your images and not just compress them.
- Optimizing means finding the perfect balance between quality and size.
- Compression is just squeezing it to its smallest possible size, without caring if image quality gets poor.
That’s where ShortPixel comes in.
It basically allows you to reduce the size of your images so you still get good quality images but at the most optimal size. Thus, allowing your pages to load faster.
The free version allows you to optimize your images.
But, if you want extra functionality you may want to consider their Premium version.
Pro Tip: Use Optimizilla first to compress your images before uploading them to your blog. ShortPixel acts as a second layer to optimize the file even further.
Best WordPress Plugins for Blog Design and Functionality
Once you have your performance plugins set up, it’s time to focus on design and functionality.
The plugins in this section do two things.
- Make your blog look pretty
- Improve user experience by adding extra features
Elementor is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Web Page Builder.
If you go into your WordPress Editor, you’ll notice that your ability to design your blog posts are limited.
In fact, the editor pretty much lets you do only text-based functions.
Elementor takes that up a notch.
Basically, it is a drag-and-drop page builder.
That is, it has pre-made blog components you can easily drag onto your web page. This makes it easy to design your blog post as needed.
For example, you can:
- Easily create 2 or 3 column sections in different parts of your post by choosing how many columns you want to create.
- Change the font style, color and size of any font anywhere in your post using drop down boxes.
- Adjust margins, spacing and integrate background images easily
These are just some of the features.
Best of all Elementor is free.
They do have a Pro version if you want extra features. The Pro version offers more components, versatility and lets you do more detailed customization.
But, for the most part, all you need is the free version.
Using the Elementor Plugin is a great free option to the Divi Theme, which offers the same functionality. But, the latter is integrated with the theme so you don’t need to use a page builder plugin.
WPForms is what you could call an “all-in-one” form builder.
That is, it allows you to add all sorts of forms to your website without having to code anything.
Best of all it’s drag-and-drop, which makes it easy to customize.
- This makes it easy to add contact forms, polls, surveys, email subscription, ordering and payment forms, among other things.
- You also get to choose which items include or exclude different forms. This lets you decide if you want to ask for their first and last name or just their first name.
- You can likewise insert multiple choice questions, ask for their email address, website URL or other things.
- And, to organize the order of the fields, all you need to do is drag and drop them to where you want them to show up.
Like ShortPixel and Elementor, WPForms comes with both free (Lite) and paid versions.
For basic contact form functions, the Lite version is all you need.
But, if you want to use WPForms for lead generation, gathering emails and more, I recommend going with the paid version, which gives you lots more power.
An alternative to WPForms is Contact Form 7.
This is a much simpler, watered-down form plugin.
And, it’s designed to only create contact forms.
This is a good option if you want to keep things simple. Or, prefer to use other form builders for your email, surveys and payment forms.
The Contact Form 7 plugin uses shortcodes. That is, you insert a small piece of text to your WordPress Editor.
This is enough to create the contact form, allowing you to avoid having to do any technical stuff or programming.
The Fancier Author Box is a quick and easy way to add your photo, name, bio, and social networks below each and every blog post.
This eliminates the need for you do it each and every time you publish a post.
Even better, you can customize the box. It allows you to change the color, add or remove certain tabs and position the information before or after a blog post.
This gives you a good amount of control in terms of personalizing your website.
Ever wonder how some websites are able to show the same thing on the sidebar even as you scroll down?
They use the Q2W3 Fixed Widget.
This nifty plugin makes the widget “sticky”.
That is, you’re able to feature something on your sidebar constantly even as the user scrolls down the page.
This works great if you’re trying to sell something, are featuring an ad or want to make your email subscription form very visible.
It allows you to place an ad, affiliate product banner, an image to your product page or an email opt in form on your sidebar that doesn’t go away even as the user scrolls up or down.
Somewhere in the course of managing your website, you’ll be asked to insert snippets of code to your header or footer.
This is a way for some platforms like Google Analytics and Pinterest to verify that the blog is yours. They also use it to track information (as in the case of Google Analytics).
The Insert Headers and Footers plugins lets you easily copy and paste these snippets of code to your header and footer without having to alter any of the .php files in WordPress.
Thus, it saves you from having to try to understand code or do any techie stuff.
If you aren’t a fan of WordPress’ native comments feature, wpDiscuz is a great alternative.
It performs the same function… allow readers to comment and you to reply to them.
But, it’s much more elegant.
It looks prettier, you can customize colors as well as the display.
… And has more features.
These include your ability to sort them according to newest, oldest or most popular.
You’re also able to disable comment threads if needed. For example, someone isn’t following your community guidelines or spamming.
Best WordPress Plugins for Blog Traffic
Yoast is an “All-in-One SEO Plugin”.
That is, it sets up your website to be optimized for on-page SEO.
SEO or Search Engine Optimization is important because it allows your blog and its articles to rank on Google.
And, since Google owns a 93% market share in search, it’s the place to be.
This way, when someone searches for a term on Google, you’ll have a better chance of showing up in the top rankings or on Page 1 for that keyword.
Basically, Yoast allows you to set up each and every blog post so that it focuses on a specific keyword. This lets Google understand what the article is about. And therefore, categorize it under that search term.
It also lets you check how readable your content is. This lets you fix any grammar issues that can turn readers off.
In addition, it lets you customize your blog so that there are no duplicate pages that come up.
Finally, Yoast is an easy way to connect to your Google Analytics, Facebook, Pinterest and other platforms.
MonsterInsights is the best analytics plugin for WordPress.
It connects to your Google Analytics account.
And in doing so, lets you view all your stats on your WordPress dashboard.
As a blogger, your analytics let you know exactly how your blog is doing.
More importantly, it lets you know:
- Who’s visiting your blog
- Where they’re coming from
- What pages do they like to read
- How long are they staying on your website
- Whether you’re getting SEO, social media, referral or other types of traffic
- … and many more.
Knowing and analyzing all this information allows you to decide what to do next.
And, if your current strategy needs adjusting or not.
Social media buttons are essential for every website.
They basically do 2 things:
- Let your readers easily share your content to their social media accounts
- Provide social proof
And Social Warfare is a great way to get both these things done on your blog.
It’s basically a social sharing plugin.
That is, it lets you add the Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other buttons on your pages.
But, you get extra features.
One, is that it shows how many shares each post has gotten. This is great for social proof!
It lets new readers know that the post has been shared that many times.
And, for posts with only a few shares, it won’t show the number.
In addition, you can also pre-save images that readers can choose from when they share your post on social. This ensures that the right photo gets shown.
This is a paid plugin.
It costs $29 for 1 site, which comes out to a little over $2/month.
Best WordPress Plugins for Monetization
This is MUST if you make money via affiliate marketing.
The reason is that the owners of the affiliate product need a way to track orders they get of visitors coming from your blog.
That way, they’ll be able to credit you for the sales you generate for them.
To do so, they add a lot of text code after the URL, which looks like gibberish to your visitors.
…For some, they might even think it looks spammy.
A good way to get “clean up” those extra pieces of code is with the Pretty Links plugin.
This lets you “replace” the long, gibberish URL with something that’s easy to read (and remember).
Just as importantly, it allows you to easily NoFollow your affiliate links (by simply checking the box).
Google isn’t a fan of affiliate links. As such, it doesn’t appreciate it when you pass “link juice” to affiliate websites, which boosts their SEO.
For this reason, Google wants you to nofollow affiliate links.
This is the plugin that comes with the Convertkit email software.
As such, it’s useful if you use Convertkit.
If you use another email provider, say Mailchimp or Drip, they’ll have a plugin you can install that works with their software as well.
Basically, the Convertkit plugin (much like the other plugins for email software providers) let you embed opt-in forms onto your website easily.
This allows you to gather email addresses from your readers to grow your email list.
Best WordPress Plugins for Spam, Safety and Security
Comment spam is one of the nightmares every blogger has to deal with.
They’re very irritating because you can’t just delete them all at once. At least not without deleting some genuine comments from your readers in the process.
Believe me, sifting through the spam comments is very time consuming.
That’s because you’ll get hundreds, if not thousands of them. Sometimes from 1 or 2 “people” (bots).
One way to limit these spammy comments is to use Akismet.
It basically works like a “spam comment filter”.
It works by maintaining a database of email addresses that have been reported doing spammy activity. In the process, flagging them.
So, the next time it sees that email address make a comment in your blog, it blocks it.
This saves you the hassle of even seeing that comment.
Like your laptop files, you always want to have a backup of your blog.
This way, in case anything happens, you don’t have to start from scratch.
If you’ve worked with computers for a while, you’ve probably experience your laptop or a certain program crashing.
And in the process, leaving you with lost data.
Unfortunately, WordPress, being a piece of software, is just as vulnerable.
A new update, a bad plugin installation or something else can cause your entire site to crash or fail to function.
That’s why it’s important to have a reliable web host. They’ll help you fix things should something like that happen. (Note: most good webhosting services do regular backups of your site as well.)
But, you have to do your part too.
UpdraftPlus lets you back up your website. It lets you set up a regular schedule, so you always have a current backup of your files somewhere.
You’ll then be able to save the backup in the cloud using services like Mega, Google Drive, Amazon S3 or Dropbox.
Two of the crappy things about the internet are spammers and malware.
Sadly, your website is prone to them, especially as your blog grows.
The more visible you get, the bigger target you are to spammers and malware. Or, people who’ll try to maliciously access (login) your site.
All of these things can bog down, destroy or make you lose control of your blog. NOT GOOD!
Wordfence helps prevent all that.
It provides an extra layer of security that the generic WordPress blog doesn’t have.
It does so by including a firewall and malware scanner. Both of which protect your site from attacks and threats.
How to Install & Use a WordPress Plugin
The last and final thing you need to know about plugins is how to install them.
There are two ways to do this:
- Installing it from WordPress’ plugin directory
- Uploading it to your blog
Here are the two methods step by step.
How to Install a Plugin from WordPress.org’s Plugin Directory
This is the simplest way to do it.
And, you can do it via your WordPress blog’s dashboard.
But, it only works for free plugins.
That’s because all the plugins in WordPress.org are the free versions.
If you do get a premium or paid plugin, you’ll likely need to use method 2 below (upload it yourself).
Step 1: Click on “Add New” on Plugins in the sidebar
This will bring you to the Plugins page on your blog’s dashboard.
This shows you all the plugins including the popular, recommended and favorites.
Step 2: Search for the Plugin
Go to the Search bar on the top right-hand corner.
Then, type the name of the plugin.
Due to the number of plugins available, this is by far the easiest way to find a plugin you’re looking for.
Once you enter the name of the plugin, the results will show you a few matches.
Go to the one you want.
Step 3: Install and Activate the Plugin
For each plugin you’ll see:
- An image
- The name of the plugin
- Description of the plugin
- An install button
- Last updated
Click on the “Install” button.
This will install the plugin to your blog.
After a few seconds, the button will change to say “Activate”.
Click Activate to run the plugin. Otherwise, it will stay “dormant”, ie. like a software that’s installed on your laptop but not double-clicked to run.
That’s it… you’re done!
- Always check the ratings. Ideally, it should have a good number of reviews. Usually the more the better. And, you don’t want something with few stars. Often, 4 or more stars is a good benchmark.
- Check the last updated:This lets you know when the plugin’s creator last updated it. The more recent the better. Some plugins can be left un-updated, which isn’t good. If left for too long, you may see a compatibility warning.
How to Upload and Install a Plugin
In some cases, the plugin you want isn’t available in WordPress.org’s directory.
This is often the case for paid or premium plugins.
In these cases, you’ll need to download the plugin from the website of the plugin creator.
Then, upload it to your blog.
Step 1: Download the Plugin from the Plugin Creator’s Website
This works much like any other software you download after you purchase it.
For example, you need to download Microsoft Office from the Microsoft website.
Or, download Adobe Acrobat Reader from Adobe’s website.
Do the same for the plugin.
The file will come in a .zip (compressed) format.
Just leave it as is, since WordPress will be able to decompress it after you upload it.
Step 2: Upload the Plugin to Your WordPress Platform
In the Add Plugins section, click on the Upload Plugin button instead of entering something in the search bar.
Step 3: Choose the File, Install and Activate It
Click on the Choose File button.
This will let you pick the plugin’s zip file from your laptop.
Then, click Install Now.
Finally, Activate the Plugin
WordPress Plugins are an essential part of your blog. They give it extra functionality.
This includes things like
- improving SEO,
- optimizing performance,
- boosting speed
- better design
- increasing security and safety
- and more.
The key is knowing which plugins to use.
This way you avoid extra “fat” that can slow down your site.
The WordPress plugins above are all you need when starting a new blog. By installing them, you’ve taken the first step in priming your website for traffic.