Several years ago I wrote a post about the best WordPress plugins for small business websites. While it was a very helpful post for small business owners, if you’re a blogger and not a physical brick and mortar business, your plugin needs are different.
In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, a plugin is a small piece of software that extends and expands the functionality of a WordPress website. Most are very easy to install and use, but there’s a HUGE difference in quality and coding standards between them.
To make the decision what plugins you should use easier, I’ve compiled a list of the primary plugins I personally use and recommend to clients on a daily basis. Depending on your web host and theme, some of these may not be needed, but if you’re on a cheaper/shared hosting setup, and using the Genesis Framework, you’ll definitely want to install the majority of them.
Website Security, Protection, & Optimization Plugins
If you allow comments on your blog, you’ll eventually get spam. Akismet will help combat it by checking your comments against their web service to see if they are spam or not. You’ll need to signup for an API key to activate the plugin, which is free for personal blogs.
The web can be a scary place with the amount of hackers and bots constantly trying to break into your site and infect it with malicious code and spammy links. The Sucuri Security plugin is an auditing, malware scanner and security hardening toolset to help monitor your site, harden the database, and detect malware if your blog ever becomes infected.
Over time, your WordPress database can get a little messy. Old themes, plugins, post revisions, spammed comments, etc. can clog it up and cause your site to perform less than optimally. WP Sweep is a relatively new plugin that allows you to clean up unused, orphaned and duplicated data in your WordPress site. It will also optimize your database tables for improved performance.
-Optimus Image Optimizer
When you upload pictures for use in your blog posts, those images are typically filled with random data that enlarges the file size. The Optimus Image Optimizer plugin will optimize and compress your images automatically, so that each picture will load faster and speed up your site, all without a loss of image quality.
If you or other blog contributors are uploading huge images to your site, then you’re wasting bandwidth, storage space, and increasing site loading time. The Imsanity plugin automatically resizes huge image uploads based on the dimensions you set. It works very well in conjunction with the Compress JPEG & Images plugin mentioned above.
Everyone prefers a website that loads as fast as possible (including Google), and one of the best ways to make this happen is to cache the static files on your site so that they don’t have to reload each time someone visits your blog. WP Rocket is a very simple caching plugin that improves the efficiency of your site by creating an ultra-fast load time.
SEO, Analytics, & Social Media Plugins
If the only search engine optimization you perform on your site is to install and configure the WP SEO plugin, you’ve already made a good start. One of my favorite features about this plugin is the ability to create 301 redirects directly from the dashboard. This is helpful if you’ve ever changed or deleted a post and want to redirect it somewhere else so that you don’t have broken links on your site.
Often called the “content marketer’s unfair advantage, Scribe helps you to research, optimize, and connect your content for improved search engine ranking. Any blogger interested in higher rankings should be using Scribe and the WP SEO plugin together for maximum benefit.
UPDATE: Scribe is no longer offered as a stand alone plugin, unless your site is hosted on Synthesis or StudioPress Sites, or built on Rainmaker, where it comes bundled with their services.
-Google Analytics by Yoast
If you’ve blogged for any length of time, you’re probably curious about how much traffic your site is getting. Google Analytics is one of the best solutions for tracking your metrics, and Yoast’s Google Analytics plugin is my favorite way to integrate it with WordPress. This plugin also allows you to monitor your stats directly from your website dashboard, so it makes if very easy to track all your data without ever leaving your site.
-Scriptless Social Sharing
Most every blogger wants an easy way to share their content with their social media networks, and the Scriptless Social Sharing plugin does just that. It’s a very lightweight and flexible plugin, which helps keep your site running fast and smooth, hence the name “scriptless”.
-Simple Social Icons
Since you probably want to let your readers know what social media you’re using, the Simple Social Icons plugin allows you to insert social media icons in any widget area on your site so readers can follow and connect with you there.
Website Functionality & Conversion Plugins
There are a lot of contact and form plugins available, but the best one hands down is Gravity Forms. It’s incredibly extensible, connecting with many of your favorite apps and other WordPress plugins. This is the one plugin I install on EVERY site we’ve ever built.
-Related Posts for WP
One of the most challenging aspects of blogging is keeping readers on your site. The Related Posts for WordPress plugin helps you do just that, by displaying similar posts to the one someone is currently reading at the bottom of the post. This is a great way to help keep readers engaged and stay on site longer.
You should never rely on Google or social media to bring regular traffic to your site, but if you begin collecting your readers email addresses, then you’ll always have a way to contact them about a new blog post, ebook for sale, or affiliate offer. The OptinMonster plugin is one of the best ways I’ve found to connect your email marketing account to your site and start collecting reader emails.
If you’re actively engaged in affiliate marketing and promoting affiliate offers, you need an easy way to monitor and track your affiliate links. The Simple URLs plugin creates a dashboard section for you to create shortened links branded to your site that track those affiliate URLs. It’s a very convenient way to manage all your affiliate links in one place.
As mush as I love WordPress, there are a few things that it doesn’t do well by default. The built in search functionality is one of those things. The Search WP plugin adds real-time indexing, autocomplete, and sort by relevance, making the search experience SO much better for your readers.
Final Plugin Notes
Depending on your hosting account and theme used, all of these plugins may not work for you. For example, many managed WordPress hosts include built in security scanning, database hardening, and built in caching, similar to Sucuri Security and WP Rocket, so those plugins would not be needed.
If you’re not using the Genesis Framework, the Genesis Simple Shares plugin will be incompatible with your theme. All the others *should* work no matter your hosting or theme, but you’ll probably want to perform your own due diligence to make sure.
How many of these plugins are you using? Are there any others you can’t live without?