What are must have WordPress blog plugins?
If you have started, or thinking about starting a WordPress blog, this question must have crossed your mind. And let me tell you, choosing right plugins for your blog can be a real pain in the but.
You probably know that WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world. Building on that success, WordPress community has created a huge number of plugins for almost every conceivable use case. To date, there are over 55,000 WordPress plugins available for you to choose from. And this is only in WordPress repository, not counting other places where you can get plugins. With this amount of choice, there comes different problem: how to choose the right plugins for your blog?
Usually, the steps people take when they choose a blog plugin are:
- Realize they need a certain piece of functionality for their blog
- Research what plugins provide said functionality
- Go through reviews and opinions on each of the possibilities to figure out which plugin would be the best fit
- Install the plugin they think would be the best and then:
- Realize it does not do the things they need
- It conflicts with other plugins or theme, or even messes up the entire site
- Slows down their website or causes usability problems
- It just doesn’t feel right
- Repeat steps 3-4 until they find the right plugin
As you can see, selecting the right plugins for your WordPress blog can be extremely time consuming, not to mention frustrating. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.
I have complied here a list WordPress plugins that will provide 95% of functionality you need to have your blog running smoothly. And best of all, to install and setup all plugins from this list will take you about only half hour!
Bonus points: all of these plugins are free or have free version which you can use to test their functionality. They won’t cost you a penny unless you want more advanced features. and if you want them, they are well worth it!
So, if you have half hours of free time, let’s get started!
WordPress plugins to secure your blog
The first order of business is securing your WordPress blog against attackers. Default installation of WordPress is pretty secure, but additional security is always a good idea.
Plugins in this section will provide top-of-the line security for your blog. But, before we get going, I hope you have completed the two basic security step when installing your WordPress:
- use strong password (at least 12 characters long, with combination of lower and uppercase letters, digits and special characters)
- set username other then”admin“
If you followed my guide on how to start a blog, you are all set. If not, take a minute to fix your username and password. It takes only a second, and it will greatly improve your blog’s security.
OK, without further delay, let’s start with installing security plugins.
1. Google Authenticator
One of the best things you can do for your blog’s security is to enable 2-factor authentication. If you don’t know what it is, there’s a great Wikipedia article that explain 2-factor authentication in detail.
In a nutshell, it adds another piece of information you must enter when you login, beside username and password. This is one-time password generated by your smart phone. This ensures that, even if attackers can guess your username and password, can’t get in without access to your smart phone.
Google Authenticator plugin uses Google Authenticator app to generate tokens you use for login to your blog. So, in addition to installing this plugin, you will need to install this app to your smart phone. It is available for both Android and iOS.
When you install this plugin, it will add configuration options to your profile. This is where you can choose to activate or deactivate a plugin, and create a secret for generating your one-time tokens.
You simply scan generated QR code with Google Authenticator app on your phone, and it will add an entry to the list of codes it generates.
Next time you attempt to login to your WordPress dashboard, you will see additional field in the login form. Enter the code generated by your phone in this field and you will be able to log in.
One word of warning: if you ever lose your device, or are unable to generate login codes, you will not be able to login to your WordPress blog. SO, make sure to write down the secret code for your account. This is the bunch of letters just above the QR code in the previous image.
Make sure you store this code in a safe location, so you can access it if you ever need it.
2. Limit Login Attempts
Another plugin that will help you greatly improve your site’s security is Limit Login Attempts Reloaded. As the name says, it limits the number of times one can try to login without success. After certain number of time, it locks the user out for a set period of time.
Why would you need such plugin? Well, most attacks on WordPress sites are automated, brute-force attacks carried out by bots. These bots will continually attempt to login to your site by trying all possible combinations of username and password, until they break in. By the way, that’s the reason you need strong password and 2-factor authentication, like the previous plugin.
What Limit Login Attempts Reloaded will do is check for a number of unsuccessful login attempts from an IP address and block that address for a set period of time. This can also help your sites performance, since it will prevent these bots from hammering your blog’s login page.
Once you install this plugin, it will add new entry under Settings menu in your main WordPress menu. Default settings should be good for any site, but if you want, you can tweak them to your liking.
As you can see, you can also white list or black list any IP addresses that you want. But, as I said, default settings should be fine for almost all use cases.
3. WPS Hide Login
WPS Hide Login is another plugin to help you increase security of your WordPress blog. What it does is changes URL of your WordPress login page.
Default WordPress login URL is in the form of http://mysite.com/wp-admin. With this plugin, you can change it to whatever you want, for example http:/mysite.com/my-new/hiddenlogin. The purpose of this is to hide your login URL making it difficult for attackers to perform brute force attacks to your login page.
Setting up this plugin is extremely simple. Once installed, it will add new options to Settings->General administration menu. All you have to do is set the desired location of your new login page. The following screenshot shows this setting:
This is all you have to do. Just make sure you remember what your new login URL is, otherwise you will not be able to log in.
4. Antispam Bee
When you run a blog, you want to encourage people to leave comments on your posts. It creates a sense of community and engagement between you and your readers.
But, on the flip side, comments are a heaven for spammers who will try to abuse your blog by leaving comments with links to shady websites. Beside the fact that these comments can ruin the experience for your users, they can also pose security risk and even bring down your search engine rating.
Antispam Bee is a free plugin that does a great job of detecting and stopping spam comments. With default settings, it can reliably detect and stop almost all spam comments. Of course, it has a lot of options you can tweak if you want better control over detection process.
As you can see, there are a lot of options you can configure. Of course, if you are not sure what each option does, it is best to leave default settings. They will certainly be sufficient to protect your blog from spam.
5. Updraft Plus
Have you ever had your website destroyed due to malware or server failure? It’s one of the scariest things it can happen when you run a web based business.
When something like that occurs, having a backup available is life saving. Fortunately, WordPress has a lot of backup plugins available, and one of the best is Updraft Plus.
Free version of Updraft Plus is sufficient to give you basic peace of mind when your site’s backup is concerned. Most useful features free version offers are:
- backup and restore of your entire site
- send your backups to external storage services like Amazon S3, Google Drive/Cloud, Dropbox and many more
- automate backup of your site at regular intervals
The first thing you will want to do when you install this plugin is to perform full backup of your site. This is as simple as clicking a single button. Simply go to Settings->UpdraftPlus Backups in your administration menu and click “Backup Now” button.
You now have full starting backup of your site. You should download backup files and keep them at safe location in case you need them.
The other thing you should do immediately is to schedule backup to be performed at least daily. If you have account with some third party storage service, like Dropbox or Google Drive, you should configure updraft Plus to send your backups there for safe keeping. It will also save space on your server.
For example, you can get free Google Drive account with 15GB available for storage. That would be more then sufficient initially to store your site backups.
Plugins to help improve your blog’s performance
One of the most important aspects of web site operation is page loading speed.
Studies have shown that web page loading speed drastically impacts conversion and revenue of the site. Almost half of your user expect your pages to load in under 2 seconds. If not, they simply click away from your web site.
Besides user retention, site speed also has a huge impact on your search engine ranking. Google has indicated that page speed is one of the factors they use to rank pages. Thus, any increase in your site’s loading speed can boost your Google ranking.
With this in mind, you can’t afford not to consider the speed of your web site. And good news is that WordPress got you covered!
Next few plugins combined will make your blog run like a sports car. And it takes only a few clicks on your side to make it happen. So, read on!
6. Cache Enabler
Cache Enabler does only one thing: it caches your web pages. This plugin is super lightweight, requires almost no configuration and will significantly boost your site’s performance.
Unlike other WordPress cache plugins, Cache Enabler has only a few configuration options. And in most cases, you probably won’t need to touch any of it. You simply install and activate the plugin, and it just works.
But, don’t let this lack of options fool you. As I said Cache Enabler is designed to do only one thing, and it does it perfectly well. It is meant to be used in conjunction with other performance improvement plugins, which lets you use strength of each plugin to the maximum.
All other caching plugins for WordPress try to cram as much options as possible and help you with every aspect of site performance. Naturally, they don’t do good job for all of those tasks. That’s why, in my experience, it is better to use dedicated plugins for different areas of operation.
Read on to see how you can combine Cache Enabler with other plugins to further increase your site’s speed.
7. CDN Enabler
CDN (Content Delivery Network) is one of the things many bloggers talk about, but few implement it. It’s an addition to your site that can greatly improve it’s performance.
Plugin configuration is extremely simple: all you need to do is enter URL which you get from your CDN provider. There are some other options you might want to tweak, but defaults are perfectly fine.
Although CDN Enabler is free, CDN bandwidth is not. Actually, it can come with pretty hefty price tag if you blog has a lot of traffic. If you are on a budget, then consider using KeyCDN as your CDN provider. The benefits you get are:
- significantly cheaper price per GB then any other CDN provider (AWS, GooglexCDN etc.)
- no monthly commitment. You pay your preferred amount upfront, and your traffic fee gets deducted from this prepaid amount. If your site is just taking off, you can get months worth of CDN for $50
If you sign up through this affiliate link, you get free $10 credit, which can cover about 250 GB of CDN traffic. That is enough to cover your CDN bill for a few months.
Although it does all these complicated things, this plugin is extremely easy to configure. In settings, simply check the 3 check boxes displayed in the screenshot bellow:
That’s all there’s to it. Of course, there are more advanced settings you can tweak to get the maximum out of your site, but these are enough to speed up your page loading time dramatically.
After all this talk about performance optimization, let’s see how this works in practice. Following image shows performance of test web page without and with optimization with these plugins. As you can see, the difference is significant.
To start of, test site performance is pretty decent even without tweaks. This site is host on Bluehost shared hosting (affiliate link), which I highly recommend. As you can see, this page has 1.32 seconds load time, which puts it in top 15% of sites measured by Pingdom tools. Not bad for a shared host!
But, once we activate all 3 performance optimization plugins, the magic happens. Page load time is cut almost in half, page size is somewhat reduced and number of requests cut down by third. All this now puts this page in top 6% of all pages tested in Pingdom! Not bad, I would say.
You can do the same for your site with these simple tweaks. Your visitors will love you, and also search engines.
SEO plugins for your WordPress blog
For most bloggers and site owners, getting traffic to their sites is the number one struggle they face. With almost 2 billion web sites on the Internet, getting through the noise has become almost impossible. That is why anything that can help you with it is extremely important.
WordPress has a lot of plugins to help you with search engine optimization for your content. Although they can only help you with on-page optimization, it’s a great first step in your overall SEO strategy.
The plugins I’ve picked are an excellent combination in a sense they complement each other. Each plugin adds a feature that other’s don’t have, and in combination they give you ability to completely control your SEO work flow.
But, enough talk. Let’s get down to business!
9. Yoast SEO
If you know about WordPress, you have probably heard about Yoast SEO. It is THE plugin for all your SEO needs for a WordPress blog. It contains almost every feature you can wish for when it comes to SEO.
Yoast has a free and paid version. Here, I discuss only free version, because it is more then sufficient for most people’s needs, Naturally, if you need more advanced stuff, you can always buy a Pro version.
Out of the box, free version of Yoast SEO provides the following features:
- Generate XML site maps for your blog
- Generates OpenGraph tags to help your content look good in social media
- Scans your content for SEO violations and suggests improvements
- Checks readability of your content and suggest further improvements
Yoast has extensive configuration options to set almost every aspect of SEO configuration. Default options are sufficient for most use cases, but certainly, you can customize these settings to your liking.
When you install Yoast SEO, it will add new meta box to your WordPress editor. This is where you fine tune settings for individual posts and pages. You set the keywords you want your page to rank for, and Yoast will provide hints to improve your content for search engine rankings. It will even show a preview of how your post will look in search results.
The other things Yoast does is readability analysis of your content. It provides hints to make your copy easier to read and understand.
Main goal of readability analysis is to make content appealing to wider audience. By making it simpler and easy to use, more people will be able to understand it. In addition, search engines will understand simpler content better, giving it a boost in search ranking.
One important things for the end:When you start using Yoast, you will be tempted to go for 'green' in each category. DO NOT make this a priority.Click To Tweet
While Yoast does a great job of analyzing your content, it still can’t understand subtle things in human language. When you write your content, always write it in a way that will be the best for your readers. Treat Yoast hints as a guideline, but don’t accept any of it’s suggestions where it doesn’t make sense from the reader’s perspective. Otherwise, you will end up with a content written fro robots, instead of humans.
Have you heard of rich snippets?
When you do a search on Google, you’ve probably noticed that some results stand out by having additional data, like image, stars, contact info etc. For example, if you do a search for an ice cream recipe, you will get a ton of results. Some of the results will probably look like this:
These are rich snippets. Unlike regular search results, they provide much more data about the result. They make the result stand out, and thus much more likely that users will click on it (this is called Click Through Rate).
And when CTR (Click Through Rate) of your result increases, Google will deem that content more worthy of better ranking and bump it up the list.
So, how do you get rich snippets for your blog posts? Install Schema plugin, which automatically generates structured data for your posts and pages.
This plugin requires very little configuration, and once you set it up, there’s no need to touch anything. It will automatically generate data needed to show rich snippets for your blog. For initial configuration, you can use a wizard which will guide you through the configuration options.
With this plugin, you will have a tool to get significant boost for your search engine rankings.
11. Social Warfare
Although not strictly SEO plugin, Social Warfare is a great tool for sharing your content on social networks. It largely improves your blog’s visibility and reach.
And, although Google, Bing and others never confirmed that social shares are search ranking signal, they also never denied. But, it turns out that social media in conjunction with other SEO strategies can help you get better rankings in search engines.
So, what does Social Warfare really do? It helps your readers share content on social networks by adding share buttons to your content. When readers click one of the buttons, they can easily share your post on their social profiles.
What are some features that make this plugin so great?
- Out of the box support for most popular networks, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and more. Pro version comes with even more networks
- Choose location for placement of share buttons
- Click-to-tweet quotes embedded in your content
- With Pro version, you can configure how your posts will appear on social media
When yo install the plugin, configuration is very simple. Just choose what share buttons you want to show to your readers, and the location of the buttons.
For pretty much all other settings, you can leave them as is. Of course, if you want to explore more options, you may get even more out of this great plugin.
12. Google Analytics Dashboard for WordPress
Important part of SEO strategy is to have insight about your sites’ performance in terms of traffic, conversion, user behavior and more. For this purpose, Google Analytics is the de-facto standard.
Google Analytics Dashboard for WordPress is a WordPress plugin which facilitates integration of your web site with Google Analytics. It will automatically set tracking codes for all your pages and it adds a widget to your WordPress dashboard, so you can see all your traffic stats at a glance.
Setting up this plugin is pretty straight forward. After installation, it will add new menu entry Google Analytics to your WordPress admin menu. The first thing you will need to do is authorize this plugin with your Google Analytics account. This video shows the exact steps you need to take, and also showcases some features of this plugin:
Default settings give you great overview of your blogs traffic stats. But, Google Analytics Dashboard comes with even more features, allowing you to track things like downloads, emails, affiliate links and more. If you want to dig deeper into available configuration options, I’m sure you will be able to find anything you could look for in analytics plugin.
WordPress blog plugins to keep in touch with your readers
As a blogger, you want to encourage communication with your readers. Either through post comments, social media channels or email, interacting with your audience is a must for successful blog.
In a previous post about how to start a blog, I’ve talked about importance of having a contact page on your website. Most people expect a website to have one, and will be confused if you don’t. Most contact pages have similar elements, like company name, address, phone and similar. But, EVERY contact page must have a contact form.
As usual WordPress has a wealth of form plugins. Here, I introduce the best WordPress form plugin and how to get the most of it.
13. Ninja forms
Ninja Forms (affiliate link) is one of the most popular WordPress form plugins. It allows you to create all kinds of forms with ease and integrate them to your site or blog efficiently.
Basic version of Ninja forms is free, but if you want additional functionality there is large number of add-ons you can buy for every possible situation. But, don’t let this scare you: free version of Ninja forms offers more functionality then most other form plugins.
Creating new form with Ninja Forms is simple. It comes with powerful visual form builder, which allows you to build forms effortlessly. You can choose from wide array of form field types, create different layouts, add custom styles and much more. In addition, Ninja Forms comes with a pre-made templates for most used form types.
As you can see, there is already a contact form template you can use to create your own form. This template comes with default fields and action, so you generally don’t need to change anything here. Just copy the generated short code for the form and add it to your contact page.
By default, Ninja Forms will send email notifications when someone submits your form. Notification will be sent to administrator email you configured during WordPress installation. Of course, you can change this to be sent to different email, change content of notification and much more.
Ninja Forms is an excellent form plugins which I highly recommend. And with powerful add-ons (affiliate link), you can get even more functionality. In addition, Ninja Forms offers excellent developer API, which means you can build your own extensions for completely custom functionality.
14. WP Mail SMTP
If you’ve setup your contact form with Ninja Forms, and you try it out, chances are you will probably be disappointed. You most probably won’t receive notification that somebody contacted you.
Wait, you’re probably wondering, what good is a contact form if I don’t know that I’m being contacted? The thing is, this is a common problem with WordPress.
Under the hood, WordPress uses simple PHP function to send email. While there’s nothing wrong with this function, problem is that most email providers will mark emails sent this way as spam. This is because email providers are very sensitive about spam and do their best to make sure it never reaches their users. They rigorously check every email, and if they think email is not sent from where it claims it is, they block it.
This is where WP Mail SMTP plugin comes in. it allows you to send email through SMTP server of reputable provider, which means your email will most likely be trusted.
WP Mail SMTP comes with support for Google, Mailgun and Sendgrid, but you can also configure any third party SMTP server to work with it.
My recommendation is that you configure your plugin to work with Google or another email provider you use, such Yahoo, Outlook and similar. This is because you will probably be sending only a few emails from time to time, and Mailgun and Sendgrid are used to send massive amount of email. That is probably an overkill for any small site or blog.
Of course, if you DO send large amount of email, then going with these two is a must, because every email provider will block you if you send thousands of email per day.
With WP Mail SMTP and Ninja Forms you will have reliable communication channel with your readers.
Plugins to help you build email list quickly
And these people certainly know what they are talking about. Recent research shows that email marketing is the most efficient for of marketing, with ROI of 3800 %! Yes, that’s three thousand eight hundred percent! For every dollar invested, you get back $38.
With this information, it would be crazy not to create mailing list for your blog. Especially since WordPress has so many plugins to make list building a breeze.
So, let’s see what we need to get our email list growing.
15. Thrive Leads
For insanely good, feature packed list building plugin, look no further then Thrive Leads. This plugin has everything you need to start building your email list right away.
Some of the cool features that you get with Thrive Leads:
- every possible type of opt-in form (popup, ribbon, scroll mat, slide-in and more)
- visual editor to customize your forms to your liking
- A/B testing to check which forms perform better
- precise targeting
- integration with almost all marketing automation providers
- … and many more
Unlike other plugins listed in this post, this is paid plugin and pricing starts from $67 per year. I know I promised you totally free plugins in the beginning of the post, but here I have to make an exception.
This plugin is simply so good, that this price is a bargain. And remember that thing in the previous section, about 3800 % ROI? Well, you should consider this $67 an investment to future of your blog.
In addition, Thrive Themes (creators of Thrive Leads) offer a membership program where you can get all of their products for a monthly subscription. This is insanely good deal, and I recommend you to get it right away.
Thrive Leads has so many features that I won’t even try to show any of them here. It deserves a separate post, because it is one of the few plugins that can be incredibly helpful for success of your blog.
Time to wrap things up
I hope you’ve made it this far and that you have successfully installed all the WordPress blog plugins listed here. I am confident that they will be a huge boost for your blog’s performance, security and usability.
This setup is the result of my extensive research on what is the best combination of plugins you absolutely need for your blog, while keeping the cost required at minimum. I really hope I delivered on that promise.
And now I would love to hear your opinion. Does this setup work for you? Did you have any problems setting up these plugins? Do you feel that this post needs more information and details?
Let me know and I hope I will be able to continue bringing you great and, above all, useful content.