You need a smoothly functioning website to succeed as a blogger. This means it has all the essential features to improve a reader’s experience and tools to deal with the challenges of having a site.
Ideally, to have such a site must be expensive considering it needs to be well designed, have forms for collecting information, integrated with analytics tools, protected from hacks and spams all at once. This requires professional programmers to build. Or does it really?
All these amazing features and tools, you can get for free, completely free. How?
Of course by using the most popular content management system in the world; WordPress, which powers 39% of all websites. Yet that’s not the coolest part
WordPress comes with 2 things; themes and plugins. Themes allow you to turn your site into whatever you want without writing any code. Plugins are apps that add the features and tools mentioned on your site.
There are hundreds of thousands of free plugins on the WordPress plugin library; you could practically add whatever feature imaginable.
However, with plenty of choices to pick from it gets hard to select what you need.
Most Essential WordPress Plugins
That’s where I come in. While different types of sites require different features and functionalities, all WordPress websites must have several plugins to cater for several fundamental needs.
Here are the 10 most essential types of WordPress plugins (and my preferred plugins) you must use on your website.
1. Back-up Plugin
Imagine investing all your time and money on a business for years and then one day a 9.0 magnitude earthquake brings in down in within seconds. What would you do?
The equivalent of that in the blogging industry happened to me in 2019. I was experiencing some financial challenges; couldn’t pay my host in time. One day they just deleted my website. Everything I have worked on since 2016 disappeared.
When I relaunched my site on a different host; Cloudways (which I would recommend to anybody with a serious knack for building a reliable site), I had to start from scratch.
I wouldn’t wish this to my worst enemy. You must have a back-up plugin on your site immediately you launch.
I use UpdraftPlus as my preferred back-up plugin. It’s very easy to set up and use. You basically connect it to your free Google Drive or Dropbox and you’re set for life. UpdraftPlus saves the latest copy of your website while deleting older versions to ensure it doesn’t consume your Drive’s space.
Whenever you make changes on your blog or update your articles, back up your site before going to sleep. It’s effortless but could save you years of work. In case your site is deleted or hacked, you can easily restore to the state it was before or migrate without to a new host without hustle.
2. Spam Prevention Plugin
One of the biggest threat you’ll experience as a blogger or website owner is the infinite number of spam comments you’ll receive in your comment sections.
Spam is any sort of unsolicited and unwanted digital communication sent out in bulk. Such messages are sent to many people as a form of commercial advertising.
In blogging spam comments are used to as black hat link building tactics. This means they contain links directed back to their website. They look like this
The comments don’t seem genuine at all (considering the articles they are responding to) and each of them contains a link to a mysterious website embedded either within the comment or on the author details section as you can see
Unfortunately, spam comments are unavoidable. We have crooks out there willing to send thousands of spams every day and they have created malicious programs to do that with ease. So what do you think is your best shield?
A spam prevention tool.
My favourite is Akismet. First, it is easy to set up. Upon installing it from the plugins library, get your API key by signing up with your email and use it to activate Akismet. Now, you’re left with the responsibility of occasionally visiting the spam tab in the comments section and clear all spam comments.
From experience, the plugin is very efficient. Ever since I started using it in 2016, it has never missed out a spam comment. I don’t know the magic behind it, there must be some form of AI technology used. All in all, it is a better friend than most people out there.
3. Security Plugin
You cannot sleep at night with your doors and windows open. Neither can you write your computer’s password on an easily accessible or noticeable place. You need security in both cases; tightly locked doors and windows at night and a computer password you can remember thus not requiring you to write it down.
Similarly, websites require security to survive. The internet is a dark alley, filled with malicious intent which if left unchecked will bring down the blogging business you are so eagerly building. You need a guardian angel.
Wordfence is my most preferred security plugin. Built by Defiant Inc, the plugin is the most popular website firewall plugin in the world. It blocks an average of 120 million site attacks on WordPress websites every day.
It identifies and blocks malicious traffic, scans for malware, protects the site from brute force attacks, checks your site for security vulnerabilities, blocks malicious login attempts, notifies and provides necessary stats among other things.
Due to the alarming stats on cybercrimes, you must protect yourself. Imagine waking up one day and trying to log into your blog only to be welcomed with this message;
Your website is encrypted, send $1000 worth of bitcoins to this address: 3FZbgi29cpjq2GjdwV8eyHuJJnkLtktZc5 to get access to your site. Your site will be deleted within 24 hours if you fail.
First of all, if you had a back-up of your site this message wouldn’t break a sweat. Secondly, if you had a security plugin, you wouldn’t get such a message in the first place.
4. Caching Plugin
Ever waited for a website page to load so long that you lost your patience and decided to abort the mission? Slow websites can be very frustrating. In fact, 40% of people abandon a site that loads slowly.
It makes sense since our patience as a generation has greatly deteriorated with the advancement in technology enabling instant gratification in almost every aspect of our lives. Take this fact with the right perspective and you’ll be in for some good returns.
You cannot achieve fast loading speed on your blog without a caching plugin. Caching is derived from cache, a reserved space in your browser that stores temporary data. A caching plugin, therefore, refers to the site app that generates static pages of your website and stores them.
When a consumer visits a web page for the first time, it is loaded entirely which takes time and resources. However, if they visit any page on your website again, the simplified and stored static HTML pages are loaded, making your website faster.
My preferred cache plugin is W3 Total Cache, one of the most popular plugins in WordPress with over 1 million installs at any given time for the last decade. Its myriad of features is beyond impressive and has been proven to positively impact the overall performance of a website.
Other top cache plugins include WP Rocket which is apparently better than W3 Total Cache but is only offered as a premium plugin, WP Super Cache built by WordPress parent company Automattic and WP Fastest Cache.
5. SEO Plugin
Every blogger wants to rank. Traffic is currency and opportunity for those who know how to convert. And the most fundamental source of traffic is Google, the most significant search engine. If people can’t find your content by searching Google, then you are doomed.
That’s where SEO comes in. SEO is Site Engine Optimization; the strategies used to optimize a site’s content to make it more appealing and discoverable by search engine bots.
SEO is a very wide topic with abstract ideas, especially for new bloggers. However, while you start, you don’t need to dive into thousands of articles on SEO to understand how it works. All you need is one plugin and its large resource of well-organized information on SEO.
I’m talking about Yoast SEO Plugin, the most widely use SEO web app in the world. If you attended a multidimensional WordPress conference and as the attendees which SEO plugin they use, 8 out of every 10 people will mention Yoast.
And it’s for a good reason.
Yoast is packed with many features which contribute significantly to your site ranking. Automated technical SEO tips, Advanced XML sitemaps, title and meta description templating, SEO analysis, readability analysis, Google Preview and Schema blocks.
If you don’t understand how these features work, you ought to install it on your site and experience their functionality fast hand. A WordPress site is never fully built unless it has the Yoast Plugin or at least another SEO plugin.
In addition to the great functionalities it offers, you are given access to subscribe to a Yoast Newsletter which occasionally sends SEO tips aimed at making you an SEO expert. These detailed articles contain guides that would give you a better chance to in ranking on search engines.
Yoast comes in handy, especially when optimizing content for Google and your readers.
6. Page Builder Plugin
Remember the part where I said you could design your site into whatever you liked by applying themes? Well, that was almost correct. In addition to a great WordPress theme, you need a page builder to design a site without touching any code. A page builder is a plugin containing many site blocks and elements that form the body of a webpage. These elements include;
Image carousel, accordion, tabs, image gallery, progress bar, testimonials, shortcode, toggle, video segment, button, icons, spacer, counter, divider etc.
Without a page builder, there is little you can do to mimic the best sites on the internet and your readers’ experiences will be compromised.
Several page builders exist that function almost in the same way. They enable you to drag and drop elements, structure your page sections accordingly and alter their appearances.
Just to save you the hustle of finding the most suitable page builder for you, I’ll tell you the disadvantages of all alternative options before mentioning my preferred page builder.
- Divi – Best but comes at a price (starts at $89 per year)
- Beaver Builder – Great option but most features are under premium package (starts at $99)
- WP Bakery Builder – Premium and slow loading (from personal experience)
- Visual Composer – Starts at $45 per year
- Elementor– Another great competitor to Divi. Also has most of its feature under a premium package.
My preferred page builder is a relatively new plugin which as powerful any of the above and has ready-made templates to fasten your website building process.
And the best part is, it’s completely free.
Currently, all its features are accessible to anyone including the templates but I’m quite sure very soon they might make it a premium plugin. But until that time comes, you ought to try out this amazing plugin.
7. Forms Plugin
There are many reasons you might need to create a form on your blog. To begin with, in case you want your readers to contact you for any questions or other businesses, displaying your email address on the contact page will get you into trouble. Spam messages will be sent in plenty.
However, a form can enable readers to easily contact you without necessarily displaying your email address or any other contacts.
Also, as a blogger, you might need to collect data from your readers with time. For instance, if you want to collect emails for your newsletter. There’s no other better way to do this other than using a form.
That’s why you need a form builder plugin. It’s essential for growth.
Two most popular contact form plugins are Contact Form 7 and WP Forms. Contact Form 7 is the simplest and most popular form plugin. It is totally free and you can build any type of form you want. However, it’s very primitive and requires some basic coding to build functional forms
On the other hand, WP Forms is a more advanced form builder with drag and drop functionalities enabling you to create powerful forms with easy.
Nowadays, it has become a popular option especially for WordPress websites that collect a lot of data. However, to fully enjoy all its functionalities, you have to pay for the premium version which goes starts at $39.50 annually. Not a bad price for what it can do.
8. Code insertion plugin
Take the phrase as it is; not as technical as it sounds. This type of plugin enables you to insert code in various sections of your site that are not accessible from the WordPress dashboard.
Code insertion plugins are essential for a complete website. Let me illustrate an example;
If you want to be updated with the daily traffic data and user behaviours on your website, you must connect the blog with Google Analytics. This is a web analytics tool built by Google that tracks and reports web traffic.
Since Google is the biggest search engine in the world, this affiliated tool provides the most accurate data on traffic. Which reminds me, linking a website to Google Analytics is an important step when setting up your blog.
Now, for you to link your site with Analytics, you can use plugins such as Monster Insights and Google Analytics Plugin which display the analytics right on your WordPress dashboard, or inject Google Analytics code on your site headers section and check your data within the Analytics portal.
Of the 2 options, I’d choose to check my data on the Analytics dashboard because I prefer to have the least number of plugins in my blog and analytics plugins tend to slow down my site.
Also when integrating Google AdSense to start earning from ads, another code must be inserted on the headers section.
This is where Insert Headers and Footer comes in. This plugin allows you to insert any code you will need within any section of the website with ease. There could be other codes apart from Google Analytics and AdSense codes which you’d want to add and this lightweight plugin will do the magic for you.
9. Social Share Plugins
When starting as a blogger, your content won’t rank in SERPs for several months until Google and other search engine platforms learn to trust you. So where exactly will you get traffic to the blog?
Social Media. By leveraging the ability social media platforms give you to access the masses, you can drive traffic to your blog and earn a few fans here and there as you work your way up. Yet to do this requires complex code that enables integration of a website with these platforms.
However, since we’re using WordPress, you can activate social sharing on your blog without much hustle. The plugin library has a huge collection of social sharing platforms; choosing the best is the biggest challenge.
In my experience, social sharing plugins have had little impact on the growth of my site traffic. I normally get 90% of traffic from organic search, and 5% from direct links. This means less than 5% comes from social media platforms
Consequently, I don’t focus on which social share plugins would work best for my site. However, some highly recommended free social share plugins include Shared Counts, Sassy Social Share and Simple Social Icons.
10. Link Management Plugins
You’re going to build a lot of links while blogging. The more you publish, the more you look for affiliate opportunities, the more you move from hosting companies to others, the more caution you will have to put to ensure your site works well.
So there are three types of link management plugins I will mention in this section. The good think about these plugins, they are very lightweight and used only to direct users and Google in the right direction.
SSL proofing plugin. SSL is a secure protocol for transferring data on the internet. Today, most websites are SSL enabled (contain HTTPS instead of HTTP on their addresses). Considering that Google gives a ranking boost to SSL enabled sites, you ought to have one.
However, having SSL enabled doesn’t guarantee all your data will be transferred using that protocol. That’s why you need an SSL proofing plugin like Really Simple SSL.
Redirection plugin. Any time you delete an existing page on your website, the original link to that page remains hanging. Also, if you decide at some point to change the permalink structure of your site, you are likely to confuse Google as your original pages will return 404 Error and traffic will drop instantly.
A redirection plugins automatically redirect your original pages to new links and deleted pages to preferred pages. After my website was deleted by my original hosting company. I had to redirect all my lost links to existing content. I used Redirection by John Godley.
Affiliate link management plugin. One of the most lucrative ways to make money online is through affiliate marketing. This usually involves sharing links within your content that directs customers to product description pages in e-commerce websites.
Sadly, if Google notices a lot of affiliate links in your website with not as much content, it could penalize you. That why you need an affiliate link management plugin like Thirsty Affiliates which ads a no-follow attribute on all affiliate links preventing Google bots from crawling them.
Of course, there exist other essential plugins that different site would need. However, these 10 types of WordPress plugins would do a lot in managing your site and optimizing it for success. Also, they tend to balance between making the blog feature-rich and functional, while ensuring it loads fast.