I took part in The Bloggers Hub #tbhchat yesterday evening, hosted by blogger Ellie of Head in the Clouds her question on WordPress Plugins was the inspiration for this post:
11 WordPress Plugins to Level Up Your Website
The third question of the night:
Q3. What are your favourite plugins to use and why? #tbhchat
— The Bloggers Hub (@thebloggershub_) October 27, 2016
– quite a few of the bloggers taking part were looking for recommendations.
WordPress Plugins are a great way to add features and functionality to your website without using code or altering your theme – but there are so many available it can be quite hard to firstly, figure out what you need, and secondly find the plugins that do it best.
A quick note for WordPress.com bloggers – Plugins are a feature of self-hosted blogs but WordPress.com has some in-built functionality and also extra features you can enable that will do a similar job. I’ve noted these were relevant.
Here are my top recommendations for WordPress Plugins in some key areas, including admin, design, content and sharing:
Sharing & Engagement
Most bloggers want more visitors to their blog, and a great way to do this is to make it easy for your readers to share the content they love.
Sumome features a ton of free tools to encourage sharing, help grow your e-mail list and analyse your content. It’s the plugin I use to add big, friendly share buttons to all my posts and pages.
WordPress does come with in-built share buttons, but they’re quite small. Sumome buttons are big and bold, and you can choose where they appear in the plugin settings, with enhanced customisation and tracking if you upgrade to Sumome Pro.
Three of the WordPress Plugins I’ve found most useful for design do very different things:
Catablog is great for product pages, portfolio websites, post galleries, image galleries and more.
Upload images to the plugin, categorise, and create custom image galleries with links, descriptions and even prices. The plugin features high resolution Lightbox options along with widgets and shortcodes so you can display your galleries wherever you like.
3. Column Shortcodes
Responsive website design is becoming the norm rather than a nice-to-have. With so may people using phones and tablets to access content, it’s important that your site adapts to different screen sizes.
The Column Shortcodes plugin does just what you’d think – it makes it easy to organise your post and page content into responsive columns using shortcodes.
You don’t need to know how to code – once you’ve installed the plugin, you’ll see a [ ] button at the top of your visual editor – press that to select the width of your columns.
A favicon is the little icon that appears to the left of the site name in a browser tab. If you look at the one for this site, you’ll see it’s the letters “DIY” in a branded square frame.
If you’re keen to develop your brand and make your site more recognisable, I’d suggesting changing your site favicon from the WordPress default to something in-keeping with your branding as soon as possible.
Some WordPress themes include the ability to do customise your favicon as standard, but if yours doesn’t, you can change it easily using the Favicon Plugin, by RealFaviconGenerator.
5. WordPress Related Posts
Your reader gets to the end of the post they came for, shares your post, what next? One option is to suggest other content from your site that may also interest them, based on what they’ve just read.
A really useful plugin to showcase other posts with similar tags or in the same category is WordPress Related Posts by Zemanta.
Install and activate to place a list of links to your related posts, with thumbnails, in the footer of each post. There are also plenty of settings you can adjust to suit your blog, including size, style, excerpts and more.
WordPress.com bloggers – the in-built Related Posts feature pulls relevant content from your blog to display at the bottom of your posts once you enable the feature.
We’re only going to touch on site speed in this post – but it’s an important consideration when looking at SEO and the general experience for visitors to your website. Long site load times are annoying!
6. WP Smush
One culprit is image sizes. Images are hugely important to site design, but if you’ve built up hundreds of high resolution images over time to share to your various social networks, this can significantly slow down your site.
WP Smush is an image optmisation plugin that help reduce your image sizes and improve your site performance. You can use it to optimise your existing images as well as any new ones you upload.
If you’re planning on building your email list, you’ll have come across Mailchimp during your research. I’ve been using Mailchimp for a long time but I’ve always struggled with the huge block of code you have to copy and paste into your site every time you want to embed a sign up form.
7. Easy Forms for MailChimp
Easy Forms for Mailchimp connects directly to your Mailchimp account and enables shortcodes for the Mailchimp signup forms associated with each of your lists.
Saves so much time, features customisation options, and avoids big chunks of code in your posts, pages and widgets.
WordPress.com bloggers – use the Follow Blog Widget to enable your readers to receive your posts by e-mail.
Not the most fun category… no one loves enjoys the admin, but you’ve put the hard work into building your blog and posting your content, don’t lose it all by avoiding – back up your files!
8. WordPress Backup to Dropbox
WordPress Backup to Dropbox is my Plugin of choice to back up your WordPress website if you haven’t signed up to for backups with your hosting package.
You’ll need a Dropbox account and you’ll receive 2GB of free storage space with a Dropbox Basic account. Just connect the Plugin to your account, choose a day, time and how often you want to back up! Your core WordPress files, media and your database will all be backed up automatically.
WordPress.com bloggers – built-in plugin functionality on WordPress.com blogs includes 24/7 Backup & Exports, but for extra peace of mind, you can back up manually using My Site → Settings, Export (see link above).
9. WordPress Importer
This is what to use when you need to import a backup you’ve created. WordPress Importer will import:
- Posts, pages and other custom post types
- Custom fields and post meta
- Categories, tags and terms from custom taxonomies
It won’t import your WordPress theme, core WordPress files or media, so it’s one to use once you’ve set up the structure of your site and uploaded your media files. WordPress Importer will re-import the content stored within your database.
SEO & Analytics
10. Google Analytics
Keep an eye on which of your posts are most popular, where your blog traffic is coming from, bounce rates, link clicks and more using Google Analytics.
This simple Google Analytics Plugin adds the script you need to connect your site to your Google Analytics account. Add your Web Property ID and you’re good to go.
11. Yoast SEO
This has to be my top recommendation for Wordpress Plugins for bloggers who want to optimise for Search Engines. You’ve written all that great content, SEO is another way to help people find it!
Yoast SEO can seem quite intimidating at first. There are a lot of different options but the Plugin itself will take you through the key settings with its in-built setup wizard.
Then, every time you’re writing a blog post or a page for your site, specify your focus keyword (effectively the main topic of your post) and you’ll see a red, amber or green indicator to show you how SEO-friendly your post is.
The Plugin will also make suggestions of things to add/amend to help make your post more relevant to your focus keyword, in a way that’s Search Engine-friendly.
For an overview of why some of these features are important, check out this post, SEO for Bloggers – 17 Simple Tips, which also comes with a printable SEO checklist.
WordPress.com bloggers – WordPress comes with some in-built SEO, but you can add extra SEO Juice by optimising the content your write for your blog and choosing your tags, post titles and headings around the subject of your post.
How Many Plugins?
Using too many plugins can significantly slow down your website and affect performance – so while it’s great to try them out, make sure you regularly go to your Plugins Dashboard to de-activate and delete the ones you no longer need.
When you’re searching for Plugins through your WordPress Dashboard, you’ll either see this:
on the installation page.
It’s always better to install Plugins compatible with the version of WordPress you’re using, rather untested ones, to avoid technical glitches or scary white screen moments!
If you have a test environment, do try them out there first, or otherwise make sure you back up your Core WordPress Files and database before installing any new Plugins.
Keep Your Plugins updated!
Plugin updates, as well as adding new features and functionality, often resolve things like bugs and security issues. If you see a little notification next to “Plugins” in your WordPress sidebar, back up, test, and make sure you keep your Plugins updated!
And Finally…Big Thank Yous Go Out To:
Shanice @ The Bloggers Hub – for organising a great #tbhchat and making me feel so welcome.
Ellie @ Head in the Clouds – for being a fantastic host and asking some great questions, including the one that inspired this post!
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help, or if there other Plugins you’d recommend that aren’t on the list!