This post is part of a series on building better WordPress blogs. You can find links to all posts in the series at the bottom of this page.
I have been known to moan that the WordPress core doesn’t feature certain functionality by default, but for the most part, the WordPress development team are right not to overload it with anything other than the absolute essentials.
Of course, one could argue that there are plenty of features within the WordPress core that aren’t essential, but that is an argument for another day. My point is this — with the occasional exception, the WordPress core’s beauty is in its simplicity. With literally tens of thousands of free plugins to choose from, we are given the freedom to decide what we need for our unique corner of the web. Rather than having functionality forced upon us, we are given the freedom to choose what works for us.
However, this choice can be a slight disadvantage if you are not too familiar with WordPress. After all, you have to know about a plugin in order to use it. With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of what I consider to be the essential elements of functionality that completely free plugins can bring to your WordPress site. Think of this as your plugin “cheat sheet”, to refer to whenever you create a new WordPress blog.
Unfortunately, you will need an antispam plugin for your WordPress blog — it’s unavoidable. Spam is a huge issue, but thankfully, there are some great plugins out there that can turn it into a few minor one.
Having tried quite a few options, my personal choice is definitely Akismet. Whilst there are alternatives (which we have explored), Akismet has always performed well for me. It also happens to come pre-installed with WordPress, which is rather handy.
I cannot stress how important it is for you to back up your WordPress site. There are so many potential pitfalls awaiting your blog out there, and the last thing you want to do is lose your precious content — there are few things more heartbreaking.
There are an enormous number of backup plugins available (both paid and free), but BackWPup is very popular and well rated. Other (premium) options include BackupBuddy, VaultPress, and of course ManageWP’s backup feature.
Security: Better WP Security
For all too many WordPress users, security measures are an afterthought. That thought is usually after a security breach, and which point, the damage has been done.
So do yourself a favor when launching a new site and take just a few moments to install and activate a plugin such as Better WP Security. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, consider additional options such as WP Security Scan and Login Security Solution (featured in this month’s plugins of the month post).
We’re all well aware of how important SEO is, and by default, WordPress performs adequately. However, if you want to give your site a cutting edge, you will need to install a good SEO plugin.
In my humble opinion, WordPress SEO by Yoast is by far the best option. It gives you complete control over all of the relevant onsite SEO factors in one neat package. You only need to read my recent post on how to utilize categories and tags to see how easy it is to optimize your site.
There is a possibility that your theme comes with SEO features, but I would advise that you ignore them and still use this plugin. You may change your theme in the future, whereas you can stick with SEO by Yoast for the long term.
Optimization: W3 Total Cache
Although site speed is extremely important, I was reticent to include a caching plugin in this post. Although they are excellent at what they do, they’re not something you really want to have activated whilst you’re still working on the nuts and bolts of your site.
Having said that, I would recommend at a minimum that you install W3 Total Cache when creating a new site, even if you do not activate it immediately. And when you do get around to activating the plugin, you can follow Yoast’s simple setup recommendations:
Contact Forms: Contact Form 7
When it comes to offering ways in which a visitor to your site can contact you, the key is to major on breaking down any potential barriers. Therefore, the vast majority of sites should have a contact form.
Whilst there are an abundance of plugins for you to choose from, Contact Form 7 is my favorite. If you’re looking for a simple solution, it will do the job just fine.
Analytics: Google Analytics for WordPress / Clicky by Yoast
Whilst there are a few different ways in which you can place analytics tracking code on your site, I recommend that you use a plugin. If you insert the code directly into one of your PHP files you run the risk of it being deleted in an update, and if you insert the code via your theme, it will disappear when you switch themes in the future.
So get your hands on Google Analytics for WordPress and/or Clicky by Yoast, depending upon which analytics services you use. Not only does it make setting up your site for analytics easy, but there are various custom settings that you can fiddle with that are otherwise more complicated to deal with.
Social Sharing: Digg Digg
Social sharing isn’t appropriate for all sites, but for the vast majority, it is a must-have. And just like means of contact, the key is in making it as easy for the user as possible to carry out the desired action.
In my opinion, Digg Digg does this in the best way. With both fixed layouts and a floating bar option (which always stays on screen), your visitors are always just a couple of clicks away from sharing your content.
If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you will know that I can’t get enough of Relevanssi. WordPress’ core search functionality is truly woeful, but it is massively improved, as if by magic, just by installing this plugin.
If you want to go a step further and improve WordPress’ internal link search feature (which I consider a must for any blogger with more than a handful of posts), you will also want to check out Better Internal Link Search, which we covered previously in this post.
What Plugins Do You Use?
This is not intended to be a complete list — I wanted to keep it relatively short and sweet so it would work well as a reference for only the must-have plugins.
However, if you feel that I have missed out a key plugin, please do make your suggestions in the comments section below. I’ll happily consider any that you think are worthy of inclusion!
The Building Better WordPress Blogs Series
- 3 Simple Steps to Setting Up Your First Self-Hosted WordPress Site
- Getting Started with Your WordPress Site’s Settings
- The ManageWP Guide to Essential WordPress Plugins
- How to Create a Personal Blog with WordPress
- How to Build a Freelancing Site with WordPress
- How to Create an Authority Blog with WordPress
Creative Commons image courtesy of RIUM+