You need a website for your business. But websites aren’t simple things.
The design needs to look great. Customers need to be able to navigate it easily. You need to optimize it for search engines. And you need to protect it from spammers.
The list goes on.
So how do you manage to do all these things and more?
Use WordPress, of course.
WordPress is the world’s most popular system for managing content.
It’s so popular that users publish 17 posts every second on WordPress sites around the world.
And if you use WordPress for your website, you’re in good company. These famous sites all use WordPress, too:
- New York Observer
- New York Post
- Thought Catalog
- National Post
It’s no wonder. WordPress is awesome.
First of all, it’s “open source.” That means the original source code is freely available and you can modify and redistribute it to your heart’s content.
That makes WordPress a flexible and customizable website builder and content management system.
But here’s the cool part.
Along with the thousands of pre-made themes you can use to help design your site, WordPress also allows you to install plugins.
Plugins are apps you can use with WordPress. They allow you to add new features to your site.
And you need them.
Plugins help you to optimize your site for search engines, protect it against spammers, and improve the user experience.
But there are over 52,000 plugins in the official directory. So which ones do you need?
Every business has different needs, but there are some plugins that every WordPress website should have, regardless of industry.
Here are nine vital (and free) WordPress plugins you need to start using today.
1. Jetpack by WordPress
OK, so there are over 52,000 plugins available, but you don’t want to download more than you need.
If you do, you risk making your website load slower, and users won’t be happy.
So what if there was a plugin that provided several features in one place?
Thankfully, there is. It’s called Jetpack.
Jetpack has over four-million active installs, but many WordPress users still don’t understand what it does or how they can use it to improve their website.
Think of Jetpack as the ultimate toolkit for your WordPress website.
It has tools to help you design your site, track statistics, improve social sharing, and prevent attacks.
All these core features are free, too.
You also have the option of adding advanced features like spam protection, daily backups, and SEO tools with one of their simple and affordable plans.
Another key benefit to Jetpack is that WordPress.com hosts all of its features.
Because WordPress takes some of the load from your server, it will help your site run smoothly despite the extra features.
Once you’ve installed it, it will show you the dashboard.
The dashboard provides an overview of the features you’re using, like the analytics displayed here.
By clicking on “Settings,” it will take you to a new window with tabs.
Each of the tabs has a group of featured settings.
Jetpack has a lot to offer, so install it now and see which of the features your business needs most.
2. Yoast SEO
Everyone wants their website to rank higher on search engines.
But SEO is horrendously complex, right?
Well, it can certainly feel that way sometimes. But with the Yoast SEO plugin, on-page SEO efforts become a breeze.
This powerful tool allows you to select a keyword and then optimize your page around it.
Below, you can see what the plugin looks like at the bottom of your page/post editor.
At the top are two tabs. Here, the second tab shows where you’re able to optimize your title, meta description, and URL.
The meta description is what shows up on search engines underneath your title and URL.
By using a simple traffic-light system, it also breaks down the SEO and gives you tips on how to improve the page.
In this example, you can see that you need to add more keywords.
In the other tab, it breaks down the readability of your page, while also showing you how to improve it.
It’s no wonder Yoast SEO is one of the most popular WordPress plugins available.
There’s also a premium version which provides extra functions and allows you to optimize your page for up to five keywords.
Plus you can configure all of these features in the settings tab.
Make sure you set up Yoast SEO today and start optimizing your pages and posts to improve your website’s ranking.
3. Akismet Anti-Spam
Everyone hates spam, but unfortunately, it’s a part of life.
As soon as your WordPress website goes live, you can expect spam comments to start showing up.
What’s worse is that many of these spam comments will look genuine.
Still, comment spam clogs up your site and ruins the experience for your readers.
And if it’s not dealt with properly, you risk losing readers and potentially damaging your brand.
Thankfully there’s a reliable, effective plugin to take care of this for you.
Akismet is the official anti-spam plugin made by WordPress parent company Automattic.
It has over 35-million downloads, making it the most popular plugin of all time.
There’s a reason why it’s popular, and if you aren’t using it already, you should be.
Once installed, you need to get an API key to start using the service.
Simply click “Get your API key” and follow the instructions.
Once you finish, make sure you paste your API key into the box and choose where you’d like spam comments to go.
Once again, you have the option of updating to a premium plan for higher security.
Still, the free version of Akismet is fantastic.
Install this essential plugin to prevent comment spam and improve your site’s user experience.
4. WP Super Cache
You’ve been there.
You’re painfully waiting for a web page to load with your cursor hovering over the back button for when your patience evaporates.
A slow site can frustrate visitors and, in turn, hurt conversions.
That’s why you need the WP Super Cache plugin.
Online, a cache is a place that stores data temporarily.
It takes time to load an entire web page from scratch. So, your browser will store files in its cache from web pages you’ve visited before.
That means it doesn’t have to receive as much “fresh” information from the site, which results in a faster load time.
WP Super Cache creates static pages of your site. These pages are then served instead of processing the full PHP scripts.
In turn, this will reduce the page-serving time.
Without caching your page, your load times will increase significantly.
WP Super Cache also provides caching for visitors using a mobile device.
Here you can see the plugin is quite straightforward to use.
Although there are many features and controls you can configure, simply turning caching on will speed up your site’s load times.
Make sure you install this plugin to optimize your site and avoid frustrating your visitors.
5. Google XML Sitemaps
You need search engines to index your site.
And to do this effectively, search engines need a sitemap.
A sitemap file helps search engines crawl and index your site properly.
Without one, your ranking will suffer, and the information search engines display might become outdated.
Thus, submitting a sitemap to search engines is essential to your SEO efforts.
But doing this manually sucks.
That’s why you need to install the Google XML Sitemaps plugin.
This plugin creates a dynamic sitemap of your WordPress website, which is compatible with Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
Google XML Sitemaps allows you to notify search engines about changes to your sitemap.
And when you update your website or publish new blog posts, the plugin will notify search engines automatically.
Pretty cool, right?
Seriously, this plugin is a huge time saver and a must-have feature for every WordPress website.
Make sure to install it to boost your site’s ranking on search engines.
6. Smush Image Compression and Optimization
Images are vital.
Without them, content can become dry and unengaging.
About 37% of marketers said visual marketing was the most important form of content for their business, second only to blogging at 38%.
But high-quality images tend to be large files that are slow to load.
So now you have a dilemma. If you skimp on the images, you risk boring your visitors. But if you use too many, you risk frustrating viewers with slow-loading pages.
You can always manually compress each image before uploading it to your website, but who has time for that?
That’s why you need the Smush plugin.
This plugin compresses and optimizes your images automatically.
With it, you can use plenty of images on your pages and posts, while keeping your load times quick.
It’s a win-win.
Here you can see what the plugin looks like when running a “Bulk Smush.”
After installing the plugin, follow the prompt to bulk smush all your images.
Next, make sure that “Automatic smushing is enabled” is showing in the top right-hand corner of the window.
Smush shows you how many megabytes you’ve saved on the right-hand side of the window, as well.
You also have the option of upgrading to the WP Smush Pro plugin.
The pro version delivers better compression and removes bulk-smushing limits.
Install the Smush plugin so you can continue to publish visual content while preserving your page-load times.
One of the easiest ways for people to contact you on your website is a contact form.
No one wants to copy and paste an email address so they can email you, especially on a mobile device.
Instead, install WPForms.
This plugin is incredibly user-friendly and yet powerful in features.
Here’s what the WPForms drag and drop building looks like when you use it to create a contact form.
First, you can save time by choosing from templates of the most commonly created forms.
Then, you can customize the form by dragging and dropping the fields you need.
For example, you might want to add a phone number field or delete the message subject line field.
Once you’ve finished, you can click the embed button at the top of the window and paste the shortcode into the page where you’d like it to show up.
The forms come with simple styling that tailors itself to your theme. They’re also responsive and mobile-friendly by default.
Here’s an example of what it can look like.
You can also create as many forms as you need with WPForms.
It has built-in automatic spam prevention, and you can prevent bots by adding CAPTCHA, reCAPTCHA, or even Google’s new Invisible reCAPTCHA so you don’t frustrate your visitors.
You can also customize the confirmation messages visitors will see when they interact with your form.
Click on the “Settings” tab and then “Confirmation” to edit them.
You can use WPForms to make sure you have an efficient, user-friendly way for visitors to get in touch.
With the premium version, you can unlock more powerful features like smart conditional logic, customizable email notifications, file uploads, multi-page forms, post submissions, and much, more.
8. Elementor Page Builder
The WordPress page editor is pretty basic.
So unless you know how to code (and you’re happy spending the extra time doing so), you’ll need a page builder so you can quickly create the designs you want.
What’s a page builder?
It’s a plugin that allows you to build your pages with sections, modules, and widgets.
There are hundreds of them available, but most are either costly or they lack the features you need.
There are also two types of page builders: back-end and front-end.
You use a back-end editor within the WordPress editor. Every time you make a change, you have to click “Preview” and refresh the live page to see what your changes look like.
That’s super annoying.
But front-end editors let you edit the actual page so you can see what you’re doing when you’re doing it.
Elementor is a simple and intuitive front-end editor packed with features.
This plugin gives you detailed control over every element on your page. And the best part — it’s free.
Building a page from scratch can waste valuable time, but Elementor comes with a bunch of templates ready to go.
Or, you can save your custom-built layouts to use again on other pages.
In the example below, I’m using the editor to start building a new page.
On your web page, you can click to add a new section or template.
Then, using the editor on the left-hand side, you can add and edit all kinds of widgets.
Elementor can take some getting used to, as they give you a lot of design control for each module.
Although Elementor has a Pro version with some extra features, they’ve said the free version will keep all its existing features.
It has some great options for responsive settings, and they recently released mobile editing, too.
Install the Elementor page builder plugin to create stunning, user-friendly designs on your WordPress website.
Data tracking is vital to the continued growth and improvement of your website.
Without the facts, you’re left in the dark to guess.
A tool like Google Analytics can help you improve your website, content, and user experience.
It lets you find out which online campaigns are bringing you the most traffic and conversions, and how each web page is performing.
With the MonsterInsights plugin, you can easily add, customize, and manage the Google Analytics website-tracking services. You can do all this from within your WordPress dashboard.
It makes tracking your website with Google Analytics much easier.
Formerly named Google Analytics for WordPress, MonsterInsights was originally developed by Yoast.
The plugin allows you to view all the basic statistics like sessions and bounce rate.
Additionally, you can use it to set up tracking for outbound links, internal links, and downloads.
If you opt to pay for the premium version, you’ll get extra features, like e-commerce tracking through apps. That includes WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads.
Once you’ve installed the app, you’ll need to link it to your Google account to begin using the features.
Simply click on “Authenticate with your Google account” and follow the instructions.
Once linked, click on the “Tracking” tab to see a list of all the features you can configure.
Install MonsterInsights to start gathering vital data on how you can improve your website.
A lot goes into website design and maintenance.
And whether you need to optimize your site for search engines, or improve the user experience, WordPress plugins are vital.
Start with Jetpack to gain website-tracking features and more.
Then make sure your SEO is on point with Yoast. And don’t forget Google XML Sitemaps to help you rank.
Next, block those spammers with Akismet. Because nobody likes a bot’s opinion.
Use WP Super Cache and Smush Image Compression and Optimization to make sure your pages are loading quickly.
Then take things up a level and build beautiful pages with Elementor Page Builder.
Finally, track all your hard work with MonsterInsights directly in your WordPress dashboard.
If you had to do all the necessary tasks manually, it would take you an enormous amount of time. And if you hired a web developer to do them for you, it would cost you a hefty sum of money.
Plugins perform these complicated tasks, so you don’t have to.
And by installing these core, foundational plugins, you’ll be well on your way to a better performing website for your business.
What plugins do you use that are essential to your WordPress website?
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