10 Must-Have Plugins for Every New WordPress Blog
It’s easy to get started with WordPress since it’s packed with so many useful features right out of the box. However, there are still some essential plugins worth installing from the get-go to ensure that you and your visitors get the most from your website.
In this post we’ll look at 10 essential free and premium plugins covering 10 different categories, from security and SEO to social media and image optimization.
With so many great (and not so great) plugins available, choosing the right ones can be overwhelming task. However, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort with this list of the essentials to help you get your website up and running as quickly as possible.
While images are an essential part of any blog post, large file sizes can slow down your page loading times. This can have a negative effect on the user experience, while also hindering your attempts to get traffic from search engines.
WP Smush.it is a free image optimization plugin that aims to eliminate the negative effects unoptimized images can have on your blog.
After installation, each new image – whether it’s a photo, screenshot, or other graphic that is uploaded to your site – will now be run through the Yahoo Smush.it service. This reduces the image’s file size, without changing its appearance or visual quality.
The image optimization takes place in the background without any extra effort on your part and is a great way to increase page loading times on your website. Existing images on your site can also be optimized with WP Smush.it at the click of a button.
You could be writing the best content in the world, but without optimizing your blog and its posts for search engines, there is little chance anyone will find their way to your website. However, by installing the right plugin, you can quickly and easily ensure your blog and its content is more search engine-friendly.
Infinite SEO takes care of all the essential on-site SEO tasks. This includes creating a comprehensive sitemap of your blog for Google and Bing, and also allowing you to craft custom titles and meta descriptions for each post on your blog.
Another useful feature of Infinite SEO, which you don’t get with other SEO plugins, is the ability to automatically link your content together. This feature allows you to turn pre-determined keywords or phrases into links to other posts on your blog. This not only helps your readers discover more of your great content, but also gives the search engines a better idea of what topics you are writing about to help them determine where your content should be ranked in their results.
Thanks to the premium support that is available for this plugin, you won’t be on your own when it comes to ensuring your site is optimized for the search engines and is ready to start being discovered online.
Infinite SEO is, of course, Multisite compatible, so if you are building a network of blogs, this is the perfect option.
Once you’ve got search engine optimization covered, ensuring it’s as easy as pie for your readers to share your blog posts on their social networks is another effective way to get more visitors to your website.
With Floating Social, you can ensure the buttons for sharing your posts will never be out of your readers’ sight while they are enjoying your content. The vertical panel of share buttons unobtrusively follows your readers as they scroll down the page. This ensures that they are on hand at the exact moment the reader feels compelled to share your post with their friends and followers.
All the best social networks are supported, including Twitter, Facebook, Google +, and more. You can also customize the appearance of the share bar to match your website, or make it stand out, depending on your preferences.
To leverage the social media networks further in order to get more traffic to your website, you can optimize your content so that is really stands out when it’s shared. One option for doing so is to use the JM Twitter Cards plugin which we recently reviewed.
If you want to help more visitors find their way to your website, these floating social sharing buttons serve as a subtle, yet constant reminder to your readers to share your content with their network.
Whether you are interested in feedback from your readers or a way to let them enquire about your services, a contact form is an essential part of any website. By adding a contact form to your WordPress website you not only make it easier for your visitors to send you a message, but also make your life easier in the process.
While you can publish your email address, there are many benefits to using a contact form instead. This includes minimizing the chances of getting overrun with spam emails, as well as ensuring that the messages you receive contain any important information your need.
By using the free Visual Form Builder plugin you can create custom forms with all the fields you require. The forms also contain human-friendly anti-spam verification fields to prevent them getting hijacked by spammers, without frustrating your visitors in the process.
Other features of Visual Form Builder include the ability to send readers a copy of their form submission, deliver the form content to multiple addresses, and store submissions in your WordPress dashboard for future reference, or export for use elsewhere.
Visual Form Builder features an easy to use interface to help you quickly create multiple simple or advanced contact forms for your website.
Another essential way to communicate with your readers is through the comments that can be left on your blog posts. One major downside of the comments system is that keeping the discussion going via comments can be tricky when using the default functionality of WordPress. This is because your readers won’t know when someone has replied to their comment.
However, by installing the free Send Email Only On Reply to My Comment plugin, you can remove this issue from your blog. Now your readers can opt to receive email notifications only when someone replies to their comment. They also get the option of choosing to receive an email notification when any new comments are posted. Users who opt in can just as easily opt out and unsubscribe, directly from the links in the notification emails they receive.
If you want your readers to be notified whenever someone replies to their comment, without filing their inbox with all the comments left on a post, this plugin offers an easy to implement solution.
We touched on spam protection briefly in the contact forms section, stating how Visual Form Builder includes a verification field to stop your contact forms being abused by automated spammers.
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As anyone with a WordPress blog already up and running should know, almost as soon as your site goes live it will start receiving a steady stream of unwanted spam comments, which only increases over time.
Thankfully there are a few services and plugins you can use to stem the tide of comment spam and avoid your site being turned into a link farm. Of these options, one of the first plugins you should activate on a new website is Akismet.
This plugin integrates the free (for personal use) Akismet comment spam prevention service with your WordPress site to direct suspicious looking comments straight into your spam folder. While the Akismet plugin is now pre-installed with WordPress, you still need to sign up for an account and activate the plugin on your site.
Another anti-comment spam measure you can put in place is adding a check box to the comment form. This surprisingly enough, is able to thwart many of the automated scripts that have been created to leave spam comments on WordPress blogs. Adding this check box is as easy as installing the popular and free Growmap Anti Spambot plugin. While it won’t deter human spammers, by combing it with Akismet, they should improve your spam defences.
For more advice on dealing with this issue, read this recent guide to stopping WordPress comment spam, complete with actionable tips and even more plugin recommendations.
By installing and activating these two plugins, you can do a good job of shoring up your defences against blog comment spam.
As well as spam, another threat website owners can fall prey to is having their site hacked. This isn’t just a problem WordPress users can suffer from, but thanks to the selection of great security plugins available, it’s a problem we can easily avoid.
Wordfence is one free plugin that WordPress users can deploy to secure their website with ease. With close to 4 million downloads, a near perfect 4.9 stars out of 5, and regular updates, it’s a safe choice for your blog.
After installation the plugin will carry out a scan to detect any vulnerabilities. Wordfence will then protect and monitor your website against known and unknown attackers who might be trying to hack their way into your website.
The Wordfence plugin also includes a caching tool to speed up your website, killing two birds with one stone.
Check out our recent review of Wordfence.
Even if your website is safe and secure from hackers, it’s essential that you have a backup solution in place. Unintentional user error can be just as devastating as a planned malicious attack, so don’t delay when it comes to setting up regular scheduled backups on your website.
BackWPup is my free backup plugin of choice. It’s a great option as it can automatically deliver your backups to a range of external destinations. This includes Dropbox, SugarSync, S3, or an FTP server. You can set your own backup schedule, and your site can be restored from the backup archive at any point.
If you want a more rounded service that allows you to roll back individual files, then the premium BackupBuddy service is another great backup solution for WordPress.
If you chose another option for securing your WordPress website instead of the recommended Wordfence (which includes caching), then you will want to install a dedicated caching plugin.
These plugins can noticeably speed up the loading times of your website and its individual pages. The two main benefits of this is that your visitors are less likely to abandon your site while waiting for it to load, plus your website will have a better chance of ranking higher in Google than a slower loading equivalent site.
As each website and hosting configuration is different, there is unfortunately no single answer to the question of which is the best caching plugin for WordPress. However, Kevin does a great job of covering the best options in his recent guide to the best WordPress caching plugins.
In most cases a good caching plugin is better than none, and therefore W3 Total Cache is a great place to start. When setup correctly, this free plugin can help you reduce your page load times for a more enjoyable user experience.
One of the best ways to connect with your readers outside of your blog is to have them join your email newsletter or mailing list. Once a reader has given you permission to email them, each time you publish a new post, you can send out an email to bring your subscribers back to your site.
Another benefit of building a list of email subscribers is that you own the list. This is instead of having your followers hosted on a platform that you don’t own or control, such as Facebook or Twitter.
Getting your visitors to subscribe and submit their email address can be tricky, with opt-in rates notoriously low as a rule. However, one plugin that can improve your sign up rate is PopUp Pro.
This plugin displays a pop-up window on your site when the user activates one of the customizable triggers. You can display any type of content in the popup, such as an advert, links to your best content or social media profiles, or your newsletter email sign up forms. The plugin is also beautifully coded so you don’t need to worry about what is going on in the backend.
If you want to display sign up forms in your content as well, such as at the end of posts and pages, check out our recent post on how to create an awesome newsletter signup pop-up using our MailChimp Integration plugin.
PopUp Pro is packed with features and is highly customizable. It’s a great way of allowing you to enable popups on your website in a way that is respectful of your visitors.
With these free and premium WordPress plugins installed on your blog, you will be free to focus on creating great content for your audience. No longer will you need to worry about finding the best way of keeping in touch with your readers, maintaining site security, making your content sharable, fighting off spam, and backing up your website.
What are your essential plugins? Let us know in the comments below.