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WordPress is an extremely powerful system which can do a great deal out of the box.
That said it can’t do everything, it’s useful to think of it more like a framework that can do a lot of things when first installed, but not all, so in this article, I’ll run through our 12 essential WordPress plugins.
What are plugins?
Plugins are code that has been written for you to use on your site, they extend the features available within WordPress to handle things that don’t come as standard.
What do plugins do?
Let’s say you want to sell products online. WordPress cant do this on its own, so needs to have its functionality extended to do this.
In this case you’d use something like Woo Commerce. You’re still in WordPress, but now you have extra options to setup an eCommerce store and start selling items.
Here are another couple of examples…
The list goes on – if there’s something that you need WordPress to do that it can’t do out of the box, there will be a plugin that can do it for you.
Isn’t this going to be expensive?
$ The short answer is no. 99% of the time there is a free to use version that will do everything that you need. It’s only when you start wanting to so something very specialized that you may be asked to pay for an upgrade, which will always include professional support. And even then, pricing options are generally very affordable.
This is a marked contrast to platforms such as shopify, with plugin (app in shopify language) developers charging for any additions to the system.
Option 1 – zip installation
Before I get into more details, just a quick explanation on how to install a plugin.
One option is to go to the website of the plugin, (links below) and find the download button for the plugin
You can then download the plugin to your computer as a zip file.
Head to the plugins option in the menu, press it and once the page refreshes find where it says ‘Add new’ at the top.
And once you have pressed that look at the top of the page for ‘Upload plugin’
Then just follow the prompts, locate your downlaoded zip file and press ‘install new’
Option 2 – Direct installation
You can access all of the plugins that live in the WordPress repositry right from inside WordPress iteslf.
Just look for the search box and type in a keyphrase to locate what you’re looking for.
The window below will automatically update with the results of your search.
If you like the look of the information presented then hit ‘Install Now’ and when prompted hit ‘Activate’. Job done.
Essential plugins list
So, I’ve touched on areas where WordPress can be extended to take on some of the bigger things you might want to achieve, such as building a real-estate website or a lcourse platform, but there are a few essentials plugins as well that I feel should be installed on every website.
I’ll run through each one below, what it’s for and where to find info from their official website.
Image compression – reSmush.it
One of the major things that slows down a site are images.
Any images used should be the appropriate pixel dimensions, and also appropriately compressed.
The first thing (dimensions) is something done outside of WordPress, in PhotoShop for example, but compression is something that can be handled within, and reSmush.it does an excellent job of reducing file size and therefore load times.
Link – reSmush.it: https://wordpress.org/plugins/resmushit-image-optimizer/
Getting your site seen is of course super important, and one way to catch the attention of the search engines is to create sitemaps (which you submit), and let the engines know all about your content with on-page SEO setup.
Yoast SEO has been the go-to tool for years, offering a long list of useful features.
RankMath also does the same job, having more features in the free version in comparison to Yoast SEO. RankMath is the preferred choice here at Bright Light.
You can read more about SEO in our article SEO – what is SEO and why is it so important?
Site security – Wordfence
Site security is majorly important. It’s a sad part of the modern world that there are people out there who would like to mess with your site, installing malware, using it as a platform for bots etc..
This all sounds super scary, but the chances of it happening are very low.
That said you can insure and protect yourself against any digital attacks using Wordfence.
Easy to setup, with plenty of options to configure it if you want to tweak performance for any reason.
Link – Wordfence: https://www.wordfence.com/
Non-essential but great to have plugins
I’ve been through what I think are essential plugins, but there are also a few that I use on every site that will extend things and make your sites really sing.
Divi builder (and theme)
As I’ve mentioned before a useful way of looking at WordPress is to consider it as more of a framework than a content authoring environment.
Well that’s not entirely fair… with the advent of Gutenberg WordPress is making leaps and bounds in the way content can be authored and published. As an example this article is written using Gutenberg.
That said there are commercial themes available which really turbo-charge WordPress, turning it into a feature-rich environment where pretty much any sort of page layout can be imagined, designed and built.
The Divi builder plugin gives you a lot of control over how you author your pages and posts and can be used for free with any WordPress theme.
If you want to really unleash the full feature set of Divi then there are two options, either as a yearly subscription or as a one-time payment which allows you to use the theme forever on as many sites as you like.
We have been using Divi for years for all of our sites and are constantly amazed at the power of the system and the new features which are released month on month.
Link – Divi: https://www.elegantthemes.com/gallery/divi/
Site statistics – Site kit by google
This one gives you all the statistics you could ever need regarding your sites performance, all displayed conveniently in your WordPress dashboard.
It is a free plugin from Google, and essentially what it is doing is pulling in all of the data needed from the google services you have already set up outside of WordPress.
Super convenient and super useful.
Link – Sitekit: https://wordpress.org/plugins/google-site-kit/
Email list management
These plugins allow you to set up email subscription boxes on your site and link them to external mail list managers such as Mailchimp or SendInBlue.
Free to Divi subscribers, this is the one we use. Easy to configure with lots of templates for design, all of which look clean and professional.
Have a look at the bottom of this artice for an example of the bloom plugin in action, and subscribe too if you like 🙂
Link – Bloom: https://www.elegantthemes.com/plugins/bloom/
A great free alternative is a plugin called popup builder.
Create and manage powerful promotion modal popups for your WordPress blog or website. Powerful, and yet, easy to use this plugin that will help you to grab your visitors’ attention to introduce them your offers, discounts or other kind of promotional notices.
Link – Popup builder: https://wordpress.org/plugins/popup-builder/
Divi Popup builder
I’ve covered popup builder above in the section for email subscription.
I also wanted to mention a Divi only alternative for creating pop-ups, which is super easy to use and can contain any content you like, and that’s popups for Divi.
Install and forget, there are no setting in the plugin.
On your page just tell any section that it’s a popup, fill the section with any content you want, and then use a custom link for it to fire off. It’s so easy.
This Get in touch link opens a popup built using the plugin, and as you can see there’s a contact form in there for you to say hi.
Table of contents
This one helps people to navigate your articles by placing a table of contents at the top of your articles, such as this one you’re reading.
It also works with pages and custom post types.
Super simple to setup, and it also helps with SEO as having a table of contents is considered as a ranking factor.
Link – Easy table of contents: https://wordpress.org/plugins/easy-table-of-contents/
Social media management
Social media is such a huge part of having a digital presence, and integrating it with your site is easy when using WP-Socializer
Add social sharing icons, sticky/floating share bar, follow my social profile icons, mobile share bar and selected text share popups easily to your WordPress site.
Social media reviews
On the subject of social media, it’s great if people leave reviews on Facebook. Using this plugin, you can have those reviews proudly displayed on your site as well.
Here’s an example of the plugin in action from the home page of this site.
Bonus info – what plugins are other people using?
Have you ever looked at a site and thought ‘who, that’s cool! How are they doing that?’
Well, if you’re a geek like me it’s probably been more than once.
It is possible to run a site through an online tool, which while not perfect, will give you a good idea of the platform, theme and plugins that are on use on the site.
If you’d like to learn more about configuring WordPress you can have a look at this article which covers my easy wordpress setup checklist. Get the most from WordPress by getting your initial setup just right
Summary – 12 essential WordPress plugins
WordPress is a solid development environment which, whit just a few simple extensions, can be used to build world-class, feature-rich websites.
I hope you’ve found this article about essential WordPress plugins useful, and if you have any questions then don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.