So, you have decided to start your online journey with self-hosted WordPress, eh? And one of the reasons why you chose WordPress as your platform of choice is because somebody may have told you how amazing plugins are! You are new, you are excited, and you are ready to get started! But where do you even start? In this blog post, I will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about WordPress Plugins! And not only, I will even give you 10 plugins that you must have when you are just starting out.
What are WordPress Plugins?
Plugins are functions. In layperson’s language, plugins do things. WordPress is a piece of software written in PHP language, and so are plugins. Therefore, they seamlessly integrate with one another making it easy for a user to get a lot of different functionalities without having to code it themselves (because others, thankfully, have already written these functionalities for us, and packaged them into “plugins”). To use a plugin, all we have to do is click a button to install it, then click another button to activate it. As simple as that.
A Little More About Plugins
OK, so I made it sound a little too simple there. But I am assuming you are a WordPress newbie, so I do not want you to have information overload. But, if you are now ready for a little more, here’s what would be helpful to know. While activating a plugin is what you need to do to get it to work in most cases, sometimes, however, for certain more complex plugins, you will need to do what we call a “setup”. You will need to set up a plugin a certain way so it performs in a certain manner. Usually, they are fairly intuitive and easy to figure out. But if you’re having issues, Google is your buddy! Worst case scenario, you may have to pay a techy virtual assistant (VA) to set it up for you.
Issues One Must be Aware of
Like all good things in life, too much of it can have an adverse effect. Take chocolate mousse for example. Or Ben & Jerry’s Totally Baked. I’d eat them all day, every day, had they not been so terrifically bad for my health.
The same goes with plugins. They are so easy! Click! Install. Click! Activate. BOOM! But the problem, my dear readers, is that the more plugins you have on your site, the more “load” your site has to carry. Which means more potential for your site to get bogged down by a lot of different files being parsed at the same time from different locations. This essentially makes your website… SLLLOOWWW!!!
WordPress practically runs on plugins, so it will be dumb to not take advantage of these nifty little, oh-so-handy, pieces of software. But just keep it somewhere in the corner of your brain that too much of it is likely not very good for you. I’d say, if you are reaching close to running as many as 20 plugins, it’s time to back off and take a hard look at how you are using these plugins.
When Possible, Use Codes On Your Theme
Try not to use a plugin for every simple task. Often times, you will find that you can hire a developer to write a simple piece of function for you and add it to your functions.php file or maybe your header or footer files. This lessens the need for a separate plugin and takes some of the load off of your website. If you are able to hire a developer to do so, please consider it!
To give you an example, I often see people using a plugin for adding Google Analytics codes. It’s a simple piece of code that goes into the header.php file of your WordPress themes files, right underneath the <head> tag. There is absolutely no need for a separate plugin to add this piece of code! Just do it manually!
Granted, sometimes it’s “easier” to add a plugin than find the header file, and also, if you’re not code-savvy, you run into the issue where if you change your theme, you lose the adjustments you may have made to your previous themes to get certain functionalities. That’s why, whenever possible, try to get a developer in your team or hire a tech VA, or something, as opposed to trying to DIY. It may sound cheap, but you will suffer in the long run, take my word for that!
The WordPress Plugins You DO NOT Need
I promised to give you a list of 10 plugins that you absolutely need. But before I go there, allow me to inform you of the plugins that you DO NOT need!
If you install WordPress using the nifty little one-click button provided by your host, chances are, some absolutely-not-necessary-at-all plugins will be installed along with your core files. Two such plugins are Hello Dolly and Jetpack. Believe me, you DO NOT NEED EITHER OF THEM!
Hello Dolly is useless, delete it ASAP.
Now Jetpack… well, the problem with Jetpack is that it’s unnecessarily bulky. Most of the things you get with Jetpack are useless. The only things I ever enjoyed with jetpack are Social sharing buttons, and the monitor option that lets you know when your site is down.
Akismet is also a plugin that comes pre-installed with most WordPress easy installations, and here’s the catch. I love this plugin because it does what it’s supposed to do. It filters your comments and gets rid of spammy content, making your life a bit easier. The catch though is that if you are making money in any way from your blog/website (which you should be), then you’ll need to get the paid version. If you want to pay them, great! Keep it! But if you want to go the absolutely FREE route especially when you’re just starting out and money is tight, I’ve listed a really good plugin below that’s absolutely free, and does it job.
There are leaner and better plugins for social sharing. And unless you use a crappy host, you can do without the site monitoring. So yeah, get rid of it pronto!
Basically, whichever plugins come pre-installed with your WordPress, delete them. The only exception being Akismet.
And now with that, let’s take a look at our 10 mus have plugins, shall we?
10 Must Have, FREE, WordPress Plugins When You Are Just Starting Out
Bots are in abundance in the online space and you WILL get spam comments; I guarantee that. Unless you have a spam detector, you’ll be cleaning up the mess yourself, and that can be a time waster if not plain annoying. For any WordPress user, a plugin that polices the comments and filters the good from the bad is essential. Get this plugin pronto!
A couple of weeks ago, this lady reached out to me, tired and exasperated, and… a bit panicky. She paid me a lofty amount that very day for doing the following: Retrieve her hacked site, get her access back, and then secure her site from further ill-intended, malicious, good-for-nothings. I wasn’t the one who set up her website, but once I was able to log in to her back-end, I realized that she had absolutely no protection whatsoever! No security plugin, no file scanning software, nada!
Granted, a security plugin cannot always protect you, but it’s still something! And more often than not, this security plugin WILL save your ass from being hacked. So yeah, if you think hacking happens to other people only, na-uh. You’re being complacent now! Get Wordfence Security, it’s a great plugin that will protect your site, at least in most cases. Unless you have a really crafty hacker after you for whatever reason, this plugin should be enough for your website’s protection.
Alternately, you can use iThemes Security plugin, which I have also used in the past. They are both pretty good, so you should be fine either way.
3. UpDraft Plus
UpDraft Plus is a great plugin that automatically backs up your website content as well as the database. A good host should also keep a backup for you, and if not, this should be a paid option. If you can afford it, I highly recommend getting an automatic backup plan with your host. But you see, I’m the sort of person who likes to have at least 4 different copy of things… thus my recommendation of UpDraft Plus.
This plugin comes in handy even if you do have a backup plan with your host. For example, say you need to update your WordPress core files or some plugins. This is not the norm, but sometimes, an updated software can crash your site if things do not go well. And well, performance issues are a thing, so f you have a local backup, it’s simple enough to restore your website to an earlier version without having to log on to your cPanel and restore from there.
I love this plugin! It makes life (and SEO) so much easier! Where should I even start with this? You see, setting up Yoast can take a minute or two, but it is not hard at all, so don’t panic! But once you’ve set it up, life will be easy, and you must trust me!
Yoast is an SEO policing plugin; which means, while it doesn’t actually optimize your website for search engines for you (sorry pal, you’ve gotta do the actual work here), it does help you by letting you know whether your page or post content is search engine optimized. Follow the directions set forth by Yoast, and you are golden (provided you are doing your own keyword research and all… because Yoast does not do that for you!)
Not only content SEO, but you can use Yoast to set up metadata for your website, which is also very handy. This means you can inject metadata without having to go to your theme’s header.php file. There is also a social card option available that you can use to set different graphics for different social media platform, right from your WordPress dashboard!
Yoast also generates a sitemap for you that you can submit to Google’s search console. So yeah, just FYI, you do not need a separate plugin to create a sitemap for you. (I have seen people do that! Have Yoast and also a separate sitemap generator. Completely redundant, hence unnecessary.)
5. WP Smush
WP Smush is an image optimizer plugin; basically, it gets rid of unnecessary data from your image files, compresses it, resizes it, and makes the file much smaller. Images are one of the primary reasons for slow websites. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you have an image optimizer in place.
My suggestion to you is that you optimize the image even before you bring it to your WordPress folders. Resize it, compress it. And THEN run it again through WP Smush, and by then, I’m sure you’re good to go.
I love this plugin! This plugin cleans up your database with just a click; really! Check all the boxes available inside the settings of this plugin, click Optimize, and it will clean up all the hidden things that are stored in WordPress but completely unnecessarily bogging up your back-end. Get this plugin and run it at least once a month and you will be doing your site a favor for a long time to come!
Now, at this point, I am assuming you have gotten rid of Jetpack, yes? In that case, you now need a social share plugin! There are quite a few out there, and some of them are even free! Personally, I like this one quite a lot as it is pretty lightweight, comes in different variations of share options (sticky, floating, etc.), and you can play around and pick and choose which posts/pages you want them to appear.
I like this because often I want to have share options enabled for certain pages, but not for other pages. This plugin makes it easy without having to actually mess around with CSS. By far this is my favorite free social share plugin.
Media Cleaner gets rid of all media files that are not being used on your site. I don’t know about you, but I often play with different images and files, and the result is a lot of unused, unwanted file. UNless I am manually deleting these files as I go, they tend to sort of pile up, if you will. With time, with all the images and other media files, it becomes close to impossible to tell which ones are being linked somewhere on the website, and which ones are just idly sitting there.
Enter Media Cleaner! One click and problem solved. It does a quick sweep of your site, figures out which files are not being used, and then deletes them! Poof! Gone!
There are plenty of contact form type plugins out there, but Contact Form 7 is by far my favorite. It is intuitive, easy to figure out and use with a short-code, and seamlessly integrates with some industry leading newsletter services. Meaning, you can use Contact Form 7 to create sign up forms, and link them to newsletter subscription services. The best thing about this is the ability to customize the forms to look just the way you want, with simple CSS.
10. WP Super Cache
Last but not the least, WP Super Cache, a caching plugin. Tremendously helpful to keep your site loading fast! There are a few other caching plugins out there, but by far I have found the WP Super Cache to be the easiest to use that does the job as well!
Well, that’s about it, guys! To start off, this is a pretty good list to run with if you have a brand new WordPress based website or blog.
Now, feel free to let me know in the comments which plugins are YOU using? Are you using any of the ones I mentioned here? Thanks for reading, and if you’ve found this blog post to be of any help to you, consider supporting me by purchasing something from my shop. 🙂