WordPress plugins add functionality to your website with the click of a button.While too many complex plugins can slow down your site, used sparingly, they are one of the main things that make WordPress such a great option for bloggers and website owners who don’t know how to write code.
WordPress Plugins I Consider to Be Essential
I recommend installing the plugins in this section, or a comparable alternative, as soon as you set up a new WordPress website.
This is a simple plugin that filters comments on your blog that appear to be spam. Spammy comments are a common tactic from people hoping to get a backlink from you by including a link to their website along with their comment (which only works if links in your comments are set to “do-follow“).
VaultPress performs two functions that are extremely important:
- It backs up your site on a regular basis, so if you accidentally break something and can’t figure out how to fix it, you can revert to an earlier version without losing everything.
- It protects your site from attacks from hackers.
VaultPress is the only plugin on this list that doesn’t offer a free version, but it is still quite affordable. You can read more about this plugin and see it compared to a few of its competitors here.
W-3 Total Cache
A caching plugin stores a recent version of your website to display in case your server is causing your site to load slowly for some reason. Caching helps keep visitors on your site longer by reducing load time, which helps with SEO.
Some hosting companies, including Kinsta, my own hosting company, don’t allow the use of caching plugins because they provide caching themselves, but if your hosting company doesn’t offer caching, a plugin like W3 Total Cache is recommended.
SEO (Search engine optimization) refers to steps taken to help your website rank higher in search engine results. Installing Yoast SEO doesn’t automatically optimize your site, but it helps by providing you with the tools to easily follow best practices for SEO. Some of the features it includes which I use regularly are allowing for separate blog post titles, descriptions, and share images for Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and creating an XML sitemap to submit to Google (which you need to do in order for Google to index your site, or have it show up in its search engines).
Additional Plugins I Recommend
Insert Headers and Footers
In order to do things like set up Google Analytics and verify ownership of your website to create a business Pinterest account, you’ll often need to add a snippet of code to the header or footer of your websites. This plugin gives you a box to paste code in without having to directly edit your theme’s code. Some themes come with this option as a built-in feature, but if yours doesn’t, I recommend installing this plugin.
WP External Links
This plugin allows you to easily determine whether all outbound links on your website will by default be “do-follow” or “no-follow” links. (Setting a link as “no-follow” means, more or less, that search engines will ignore them. Go here to read a more in-depth explanation and to learn why it matters).
You can also easily create exceptions to the default using this plugin. As an example, most outbound links on my websites are automatically do-follow links, but exceptions include affiliate links and links to social media sites, so I have those listed as exceptions in my WP External Links plugin.
WP Affiliate Disclosure
If you intend to link to affiliate products on your blog, the FTC requires that you notify your blog visitors of this fact in a way that’s obvious (not hidden in your website’s footer or on an obscure policy page). One way to do this is by simply telling people in your blog post with something like, “I think this is a really great product, and here’s my affiliate link to the website where you can read more about it.”
But if you frequently write blog posts that are full of affiliate links, it’s less tedious both for you to write and for your site visitors to read if you just put a disclaimer at the top of the page. If you don’t want to have to type or copy and paste your disclaimer every time you write a new blog post, you paste your affiliate disclaimer in the “WP Affiliate Disclosure” plugin and it will automatically appear at the top of every page and/or post (whichever you choose) on your blog.
This plugin lets you create a URL at your website which will redirect to an external link. For example, you can create a link to “https://somewebsite.com/32918487e8whfifdame2892jffsd8wr” at “yourwebsite.com/somewebsite”.
I’ve heard a lot of people describe this plugin as “a way to shorten long, ugly links”, which always seemed unnecessary to me since I was mainly linking text directly from my website, but I finally understood the value of this plugin and now recommend using it for two main purposes:
- A way to share links on Instagram and other social media. Short, memorable URL’s are best for social media posts, so if you’re using an affiliate link to promote an online course, for example, you can tell people to visit “yourwebsite.com/online-course” instead of “onlinecourse.com/yourname/2389fhsdifu8923r” for the details.
- A place to store all your affiliate links. When I first started blogging, the only affiliate products I ever linked to were Amazon products, and “cloaking” Amazon affiliate links violates the Amazon Associates terms & conditions, so I didn’t understand the point. But as I started linking to other affiliate products–an online course, an ebook, a software service, etc.–I found myself repeatedly having to go fetch the same affiliate links over and over again by looking up and logging into the affiliate dashboard for each program. That’s why I finally got why Pretty Links is so useful. I can paste all my affiliate links into it once and create new URL’s (sort of like nicknames) for each one, and when I’m writing a blog post, I can click a link within the editor to quickly look up the affiliate link.
- A way to create internal redirects. Let’s say you write a blog post with the URL yoursite.com/my-super-awesome-blog-post, but later you wish you’d given it a different URL. If you just change the URL, then wherever the old link appears (on Pinterest, for example), it will be broken. With Pretty Links, you can create a new URL that redirects site visitors to the old one. You probably won’t discover the need to do this right away, but if/when you do, know that it’s easy to do with Pretty Links.
If you blog about a topic that people are searching for or sharing on Pinterest, or if you intend to promote your blog on Pinterest, it’s absolutely essential that each page of your blog have at least one attractive, vertical image, ideally including your website address and overlaid enticing text, which will come up as an option when your website visitors click to share your blog on Pinterest. Otherwise, anyone who shares your blog on Pinterest will be forced to choose an image that won’t look good on Pinterest, and you’ll miss a wonderful opportunity for free advertising.
Want to see what people are currently pinning from your website? Enter this in your browser’s search bar:
You can add a vertical image for Pinterest to your blog posts, like I do on this blog at the top of each article, but if you prefer not to have these images showing up in your blog posts, the Tasty Pins plugin makes adding images for Pinterest extremely easy.
After you install the plugin, you’ll see a place under each blog post where you can upload multiple Pinterest images and write a Pinterest-specific description. This plugin will also give you the option of preventing images on your website from showing up as an option to pin, which will encourage people to choose one of your nice vertical images.
As I alluded to above, of the best ways to promote your blog is to have your site visitors do it for you. A social sharing plugin makes that easy for them by adding buttons at the top, bottom, and sides of each page allowing it to be shared to any social media platform with one click. There are lots of social sharing plugins to choose from, including some with fancy buttons styled to match your site’s design, but here I’ll share the ones I use (which include two of the most popular ones).
After hearing lots of good things about this plugin, I decided to try it, and I truly believe it to be the best of all the ones I’ve tried. In fact, it’s the one I’m currently using on The Blogging About Blogging Blog.
I like that in addition to the buttons at the top of the blog post that show the number of total shares a post has, it also has an optional feature I can add to my sidebar that lists my most popular posts according to the number of shares they’ve received. Floating social icons (along the side of the page) are also an option included with this plugin. There are even more options available in the pro version of this plugin, including hover Pinterest buttons for images and custom text for Tweets.
Update: In March of 2019, a code vulnerability was exposed within the Social Warfare plugin that resulted in some of its users suffering a cyber attack. Some bloggers stopped using the plugin at that point out of fear, but personally I am comfortable with continuing to use it because I am confident they have taken adequate steps to fix the problem–after all, their business depends on it. You can read more about the issue here to make your own decision, but if you would prefer to avoid it altogether, another social sharing plugin I have used and liked is Sassy Social Share. It doesn’t do quite as much as Social Warfare, but provides most of the same basic functionality.
Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
This plugin makes it easy to set up Google Analytics by copying and pasting your unique ID. It also allows you to see your basic Google website stats from within your WordPress dashboard.
Some Other Plugins I Like
Jetpack by WordPress.com
This one is a bit controversial. Jetpack is a plugin from the creators of WordPress that adds many features to your site. Some people report that it slows down their site due to having so many features which you may not need and could instead get by installing several single-function plugins, but the converse to that argument is that by only installing one plugin with multiple features, you reduce the risk of plugins conflicting with one another.
I use Jetpack on both my websites. I enjoy the functionality it adds and haven’t run into any problems from it. Here’s an article about some of the features of Jetpack I personally enjoy.
And here’s an article where you can read about the pros and cons of Jetpack and also see a list of all the features it provides in order to determine for yourself whether it’s something you feel you want to try.
Really Simple SSL
First of all, if you haven’t already, you need to install an SSL certificate on your site (learn what an SSL certificate is here). This is something that should be fairly simple to do through your hosting provider (and most hosting companies provide them for free), but if you can’t figure it out, try Googling “how to install SSL + name of your hosting company”, or contact your hosting company’s customer support.
A website address beginning with “https” means the website has an SSL certificate, whereas websites that don’t use “http” at the beginning of their URL.
You know how sometimes you try visiting a website and get a scary looking message that says the website you’re trying to visit is “not secure”? That happens when you try to visit a website that hasn’t installed an SSL certificate through a URL beginning with “https”.
After you install your SSL certificate, using a plugin like “Really Simple SSL” will redirect all incoming traffic from “http” to “https”. For example, if someone were to type “http://rvinspiration.com” into their web browser, this plugin would instead send them to “https://rvinspiration.com”. The website looks the same either way, but the “https” version is more secure and includes a little lock icon in the navigation bar to indicate so.
In 2018, WordPress updated the blog post editor (the area where you compose your blog posts) to a new version called “Gutenberg” (see a demo here). Some bloggers, including myself, were used to the old editor and didn’t really want to have to learn something new, so WordPress released a plugin which reverts back to the “Classic” editor, which looks like this:
This is completely a preference thing, and if you’re new to WordPress you might just want to try using Gutenberg editor, because it seems to have some really nice features, but if you want to switch to the Classic editor, you can do so using the Classic Editor plugin. Here’s an article about how to install it.
A Few More Plugins I Use
Forget About Shortcode Buttons
Simply put, this plugin makes it easy to add a button in the style and color of your choosing to a page on your website. Like this:
Popup by Supsystic
Speaking of which, here’s the popup plugin I used for the fun little gag above. It’s not the most intuitive to customize, but that has been my frustrating experience with most popup plugins. I don’t often use popups myself, but if you need one, this is a free option that will get you by in a pinch.
I’ve used this plugin on RVinspiration.com to create multiple versions of my sidebar to test on different pages of my blog without having to lose my old sidebar configuration. For example, for a while I tested putting custom ads on my sidebar, and I also have a “Christmas sidebar” that promotes all my Christmas related blog posts that I switch to during the holidays.
Share Drafts Publicly
Occasionally I write a blog post that I want someone else to proofread before I publish it (like a guest post or a sponsored post, for example). With this plugin, I can share a private link to an unpublished draft.