Plugins are what provides WordPress with a long list of functions and features. And with more than 60,000 available for free, you can add a lot to your website. Let’s look at those plugins and why you’d want to use them.
Although WordPress by itself is a great platform, there are all kinds of goodies you can add to make your blog stand out.
Why Use WordPress Plugins?
Although WordPress comes out of the box ready to use, plugins offer a variety of additions. These can range from security improvements to helping you create better content. Not to mention a few fun add-ons that may help visitor engagement.
For example, you can add a random quote generator to display a motivational quote each time someone visits your website.
On this blog, I show the top 10 trending posts for the day in the sidebar.
With over 60,000 plugins to choose from, you can easily put together a unique website for your specific audience and niche. The hardest part is figuring out which ones you want to use as there are a lot of options available.
Most of the plugins available through the WordPress repository are free but will have premium versions available should you choose to upgrade. Usually, these “freemium” plugins are quite useful and can improve the quality of your site.
For instance, I started using the free version of Yoast to help write SEO content. After about a year or so, I decided to upgrade to the premium version as it had more tools that I wanted to use.
The point is that most free versions of plugins can make a difference. Then, if you want the added benefits later on, you can always upgrade.
How to Install Plugins in WordPress
There are actually a few ways you can install WordPress plugins. But today, I’m only going to go over the easiest and quickest method.
From the admin dashboard of WordPress, go to Plugins and click, Add New.
Using the search field, enter the name or function of the plugin you want to add to WordPress. Let’s say I want to add a countdown timer to the sidebar.
Scroll to the plugin you want to install. Click the Install Now button and then Activate.
Depending on the plugin, you’ll see a new ability in the left panel of WordPress or additional functions under the Settings section.
In this case, the countdown timer plugin would add a new block that I can add to the sidebar.
What Free Plugins Do I Use Most in WordPress?
Every website I build or help create is unique. Each will have specific tools and features that are relevant to the site. For example, the health and fitness blog uses a recipe plugin to share healthy recipes.
However, there are a handful of plugins I usually install right off the bat as they are more universal.
You don’t absolutely need to use any of these plugins with WordPress. Nonetheless, you should consider the primary needs such as security and search engine optimization.
I’ve been using Wordfence for a very long time. It’s perhaps one of the more popular security plugins, and the free version comes with a slew of features that make it quite popular.
Wordfence comes with firewall protection, file scanning, and login security. The plugin will email you when issues are immediately detected or if there is questionable activity on your site.
For instance, if someone uses the “forgot password” link, Wordfence will send an email to you.
The plugin is loaded with features and options to let you fine-tune your system to best fit your needs. It takes a bit of time to set everything up correctly but is worth the trouble to keep your site protected.
SEO Assistance: Yoast SEO
Yoast is another plugin that I’ve been using for an exceptionally long time. At first, I used it to help me write better content for clients on Textbroker. Nowadays, it drives my content to score better in search results.
The Yoast plugin comes with two major elements: SEO and Readability. Both of these attributes are needed if you want to write legible and well-performing content.
The system will analyze your posts as you write and give you suggestions on what to fix. It’ll also keep track of your keyword usage, headings, and other nuances for optimization.
One of my favorite features is in the premium version called “Insights.” Yoast will scan all of your text to show you the more prominent ones within the article.
Then, you can make adjustments according to the topic to help both humans and bots understand what your post is about.
Tracking and SEO: Google Site Kit
Another of my favorite WordPress plugins is Google Site Kit. Essentially, it brings all of the basic information of your Google accounts directly to your WordPress dashboard.
Plus, it makes authorizing your blog for Google search incredibly easy. With a couple of clicks of the mouse, you can submit your website from WordPress and enable it in Google Search Console.
Now, the data you’re provided in Google Site Kit is only the surface level of what each service provides. For instance, if you connect Search Console, Site Kit will only show you the top 10 search queries for your content.
You’ll need to log directly into Search Console to get more in-depth data.
I also find it useful to see how much the blog has made from AdSense as well as the top-earning posts on the site.
Maintenance and SEO: Broken Link Checker
There are all kinds of broken link checker plugins on WordPress. I usually install the one developed by WPMU DEV.
This plugin will keep an eye on the links on your website and let you know when one of them is broken. This also includes images that you have on your site that might have been deleted or moved.
The reason you’d want a broken link checker is to ensure they always work. Google hates it when a link is broken or an image is missing. Your posts could begin to see a decrease in ranking.
From Broken Link Checker, you can choose to remove the link entirely or replace it with a new one without accessing the post itself.
Comments and Engagement: wpDiscuz
While the WordPress comment section works well enough, wpDiscuz adds a lot more functionality. For one thing, I think the layout just appears better from a visual standpoint.
wpDiscuz has several layouts to choose from, the ability to collapse comments if they get too long, lazy loading the comment section, and creating sticky comments that move with the page.
In any case, wpDiscuz has a slew of tools and functions that you can easily enable and disable with a click of your mouse. It just makes the comment system more attractive and inviting for your guests.
Author Bio: StarBox
There’s nothing wrong with using the author bio box that comes built into WordPress. However, I like the visual appeal that comes with StarBox for showing a bit more umph for the authors.
This is more cosmetic than anything, really. It all comes down to making the post appear more elegant and professional.
StarBox gives you the ability to add social links for the author, a tab for articles written by the individual, can be added as a sidebar widget instead of at the bottom of an article, and much more.
The only downside to StarBox is the limited capacity it has in the free version. If you upgrade, you get far more functionality to display something attractive and functional.
Multifunctional: Jetpack & Akismet
Think of Jetpack as like a Swiss Army Knife for blogs. And Akismet is often a default install with WordPress. Both are created by the folks who brought WordPress in the first place, Automattic.
Jetpack comes with more than 20 modules that you can turn on and off that provide a variety of functions. For instance, the ones I use most often are traffic tracking, Publicize, post like buttons, and URL shortner.
It can help you slim down the bloat of your WordPress plugins by giving you functions that you might want to use instead of installing a whole new plugin.
Akismet is an effective anti-spam platform that helps keep your comment section and contact forms clean. Both are free to use but have more versatility by upgrading.
Anything Else That Fits the Niche
After installing the above seven plugins, I look for anything that the blog might need for its niche. Usually, I’ll add functions as time marches on depending on the need.
For instance, I haven’t added the Advanced Ads plugin to the new blog yet. However, I will once I add AdSense and affiliate links to the site. That’s because Advanced Ads does a great job of keeping those things organized.
I recently added Link Whisper to one of the other blogs to help with internal linking structures.
As you continue to develop your blog, you’ll undoubtedly come across a few other plugins in WordPress that will either help you maintain the site or improve the user experience.
7 Best Practices for Using WordPress Plugins
Adding plugins to WordPress involves more than just a set-it-and-forget-it mentality. While a lot of these tools can offer a great deal in terms of functionality, they can sometimes break a site or become obsolete.
Not to mention that sometimes, you can easily have too much of a good thing.
Some of the best practices for using WordPress plugins include:
- Only use plugins that are currently supported. Older plugins can leave your site open to hacking exploits and worse.
- Keep the plugins to a minimum if possible. Each plugin you install will affect the blog’s performance.
- Try not to use more the one plugin per need. Plugins can sometimes break each other if they are doing the same thing.
- Learn how to properly use each plugin. You may find they have more features and abilities than you thought.
- Remove plugins you are not using. It’ll save on space while reducing the risks to your blog.
- Understand that not all plugins will work perfectly with every theme in WordPress. Compatibility issues could happen.
- Always keep the plugins updated. Compatibility issues and exploits are often fixed with an update from the developer.
What Tools Interest You Most?
There are a lot of tools and functions that WordPress plugins can provide. If you need it for your blog, there is a good chance someone has added it to the repository.
The hardest part is deciding which one is the right fit for your website.
What kind of features are you looking to add to your blog?
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