There are lots of plugins available for WordPress, an overwhelming amount really. So many that it’s often difficult to know which one is right for you. Experience is always best, I’ve created dozens of WordPress blogs and have installed, tested and experimented with hundreds of plugins. These are my personal recommendations (not only mine, most of these plugins are extremely popular on the WordPress.org website) and hopefully they will help you sort out which plugin you should be using for your blog.
Click on one of the below links to automatically jump to that section:
Speed Up Your Blog
Speeding up your website has never been more important. Having a speedy blog will keep people on your website longer, it will also get you on Google’s good side since Google takes into consideration how fast a website is when it comes to their algorithm (where you rank on Google).
I already covered in detail how to speed up your WordPress website, but here are some speed / caching plugins that you should consider adding.
WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache is the caching plugin I use for this website. It doesn’t have the same amount of features as W3 Total Cache (see below), but it’s extremely easy to set up and, unlike W3 Total Cache, I have never had any problems with it.
- Support for several different caching types (such as PHP and Mod_Rewrite).
- Support for CDN.
- Mobile support for popular plugins such as Jetpack mobile and WPTouch.
- Choose whether to enable Preload mode (garbage collection).
- Able to receive status emails.
W3 Total Cache
This is the most popular (free) caching plugin available. To its credit, w3 Total Cache has an impressive amount of features that go beyond simple caching. After activating it you can either leave the default settings or, if you are comfortable doing so, tweak the advanced settings.
While the plugin is obviously extremely popular and useful, I’ve always had problems with it, hence why I use WP Super Cache. Don’t let that discourage you though, as W3 Total Cache is used by some pretty heavy weight websites like SmashingMagazine.
- Optimize your Database.
- Support for CDN.
- Plenty of advanced settings.
- Caching of objects.
- Browser caching.
- Caching of feeds (comments, tags, categories).
Quick Cache is another simple caching plugin that you can turn to when you need to uptick your website’s speed. While not as advanced as the previous two plugins, Quick Cache is still a solid choice and gives you the option of having access to even more features if you upgrade to the pro-version.
- Feed caching.
- 404 caching.
- Set an expiration date for your cached files.
- Very easy to use.
This ties in with speeding up your WordPress blog. Image optimization is extremely important, especially for blogs that have lots of images that bloat loading time.
EWWW Image Optimizer
Optimizing images is a must for a speedy website and my favorite plugin is EWWW Image Optimizer. Image Optimizer reduces the file sizes of your images, including NextGen Gallery images, which will improve page speed.
The plugin is one of the most popular image optimizing plugins available, with over 600,000 downloads and a solid 4.7 / 5 rating. I’ve used this on every single one of my websites (including this one) and have never had any problems with it.
- Optimizes NextGen Gallery images.
- Optimize images that have already been uploaded.
- Schedule Optimization of your images.
- Choose which (if any) images you wish to skip optimizing.
WP Smush.it is even more popular (in terms of downloads) than EWWW Image Optimizer, having been downloaded by users over 1 million times! Best of all it is developed by the gurus over at WPMU-DEV who are known for their solid plugins. While it is a great image optimizer, it has less of a rating than EWWW, with a decent 4 / 5 stars by users. If you want the best performance plugin for optimizing images, I still recommend you use EWWW Image Optimizer, though this plugin is a solid alternative.
- Converts GIFs to PNGs.
- Works automatically.
- Can also convert existing images.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO is extremely important for ranking high in the search engines. Luckily there are some fantastic and free SEO plugins available, ones that come with pro-level features to help you build the perfectly optimized webpages.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
WordPress SEO by Yoast is one of the most popular and feature rich SEO plugins available. It’s also one of the most downloaded plugins ever with nearly 15 million downloads and a solid 4.7 / 5 rating. Honestly I could dedicate an entire post to discussing all of the features available, but here are a few of the most important ones.
- Automatic XML Sitemaps.
- Page analysis.
- Pick your own SEO Title (the title that will appear in the search results).
- Tell the search engines what pages you want listed and what pages you don’t (such as tag and category pages).
- RSS Optimization.
I highly recommend that if you plan on using an SEO plugin (you should btw), that you use either this plugin or the All in One SEO below.
All in One SEO Pack
All in One SEO pack is similar to WordPress SEO by Yoast. You can optimize your titles for SEO and submit your XML map to Google. This plugin has been downloaded over 20 million times making it even more popular than Yoast (though it only has a 3.9 / 5 rating).
- Optimize your titles for the search engines.
- Submit your XML map to Google.
- Support for Google Analytics.
- Auto generate META tags.
Google XML Sitemaps
Google XML Sitemaps is another extremely popular plugin, having been downloaded over 16 million times. And for good reason. Google XML generates a sitemap that helps the search engines index your blog.
Similar to the previous two plugins but not as popular. SEO Ultimate is a user friendly SEO plugin that has many of the same features as All in One SEO but it also comes with a ‘rich snippet creator’ for reviews.
- SEO title optimization.
- Rich snippet support.
- Author highlighter function for search results.
- Link mask option.
SEO Friendly Images
SEO Friendly Images will automatically add a title and alt tag to your uploaded images. Great for improving your image search engine traffic.
Social bookmarking plugins are an extremely important feature for driving traffic to your blog. Thankfully, there is no shortage of free plugins available. You should be wary though, some social bookmarking plugins are a heavy weight on your website’s page speed. Don’t go overboard, instead experiment with the below plugins (or find some more on the WordPress.org website) until you find a light weight social plugin that doesn’t bloat your blog.
Easy Social Share Buttons
Easy Social Share Buttons is a light, but feature rich social sharing plugin. One of the great things about Easy Social Share Buttons is that you can set when you want your ‘shares’ to be displayed. Typically if you have a new website or an article that isn’t getting shared a lot it can negatively affect whether you visitors share the article or not.
- Nearly 20 templates to choose from.
- 20 Social Networks.
- Support for several positions.
- Support for custom post types.
- 8 counter styles.
- Compatibility with BB Press, WooCommerce and others.
- Able to customize your button text.
Shareaholic is an advanced plugin that can be used for more than just social sharing and it can be used for several different CMS, not just WordPress.
There are several different looks you can display with Sharaholic, the only downside is that you have to sign up for a free account before you can have access to all of the great features.
- Social analytic support.
- Support for WordPress, Drupal, Tumblr and others.
- Control over share count display.
- Control over size and position.
Share Buttons by AddToAny
Share Buttons by AddToAny is a customizable, lightweight, share bookmarking plugin that allows you to specify the position, color and share count.
- Support for vertical and horizontal positioning.
- Analytic support.
- Optimized for mobile.
Sociable is another social bookmarking plugin that, while not as customizable as the other plugins, is still a solid alternative bookmarking plugin.
- Support for several different icon styles.
- Support for several icon sizes.
- Display social bookmarking either vertically or horizontally.
Ultimate Social Deux
Another light weight social bookmarking plugin. Ultimate Social Deux is a bit unique as they have completely different looks to most other social share plugins. More importantly, they have all of the needed features such as support for shortcode, display of how many shares you have and plenty of customization options.
- Show share count.
- Light weight.
- Mobile responsive.
- Fully customizable.
- Supports multiple languages.
- Several layout options.
Likebox Slider is more than just a social sharing plugin. It is also one of the best ways to boost your followers on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and any other social network and it is the most popular social sharing plugin available on Code Canyon. What Likebox Slider does is features, on all pages, your social networking profiles, whenever someone hovers over that profile they are able to easily like your network. See pic below:
- Completely customizable.
- Plenty of layout options.
- Support for all major social bookmarking sites.
- Multiple languages supported.
Security and Spam
Security and some sort of Spam protection are extremely important, especially in the wake of the 100,000+ WordPress blogs that were recently hacked. You may have to go premium, but having a solid security and spam plugin is a must.
Akismet is probably the best way to keeping spam at bay. What Akismet does is filters spam and it is extremely effective in doing so, running on autopilot which allows you to focus on creating great content instead of having to worry about spam.
A simple yet excellent security plugin that timestamps the IP Address of those trying to log into your site and limits those login attempts. The default setting (which you can change) blocks a user for 1 hour if they have 3 failed login attempts.
Anti-Spam Bee is a great and up-to-date plugin that is a suitable alternative to using Akismet.
iThemes security (formally Better WP Security) is a straightforward security plugin that allows you to easily make a number of important security tweaks with just a few clicks. It also comes with plenty of advanced settings that you can employ to completely secure your blog. I’ve used it for every one of my websites and have never had any problems with it.
- Default brute force protection.
- Scans for malware.
- Database backups.
- Option to ban IP addresses that fail several login attempts.
WordFence Security is another excellent security plugin that actually has more downloads and a slightly higher rating than iThemes. Like with iThemes, it is rather straightforward and has plenty of pro-level security features.
- Malicious network blocking.
- Compatible with WordPress Multi-site.
- Malware scan.
- Blocks to suspicious IP addresses.
- Caching is built-in.
Backuping up your blog, especially a blog that you dedicate a lot of time to, is a must. While you probably won’t ever fall into a situation where you lose all of your data, why risk it? Why not keep peace of mind and install a premium backup service to ensure you are always protected?
VaultPress is my personal favorite when it comes to backup plugins. This is because it is easy to restore data, the plans are relatively cheap and VaultPress is owned by Automattic, the same guys behind WordPress.
- Automatic, one-click backups.
- Daily backups.
- Safekeeper support.
- Support for reviewing suspicious code.
While I prefer VaultPress, BackupBuddy is still a great alternative. It has most of the same features as VaultPress but covers two websites, the only downside is that it is a bit more expensive with the cheapest plan at $80 a year.
- Scheduled backups.
- Offsite storage.
- Option to exclude files.
Having the right comment system is not only important for reader engagement but is also great for SEO – comments can (with the right comment system) be included in search results and having your readers comment on your website will keep them on your blog longer (also great for SEO).
Disqus is an extremely popular commenting system that monster websites such as CNN use. It features realtime commenting, integration for social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and makes it easy on your visitors to comment since there are several ways for them to login. One thing I did not like about Disqus is that it seems to slow down your blog a bit.
JetPack comments is a simple, fast loading and sleek commenting system and it’s the plugin that this blog uses. It’s my favorite since it allows easy commenting and doesn’t bloat your blog’s page loading speed. It also already comes pre-bundled in the JetPack plugin, so if you have JetPack installed you simply activate it in the settings page.
CommentLuv is a rewarding system for your readers. What it does is automatically leaves a link to your reader’s last blog post at the end of their comment. This is a great way to encourage commenting but it can also encourage spam as well as useless, ‘hit and run’ comments like “great post”, from commenters who just want a link back to their blog.
SEO Facebook Comments
SEO Facebook Comments is a pretty popular commenting system. It is similar to the abandoned Facebook Comments but this system is supposedly better for SEO.
Intense Debate is an advanced commenting system that has discussion tools that can help drive your readers to get engaged (comment) on your blog posts.
Lifefyre certainly ranks as one of the better commenting systems, supporting realtime conversations and getting your readers to comment more on your blog. The only bad thing with using this option is that it is not free.
Google Analytics is one of the best, if not the best, statistics plugin for your blog. With Google Analytics, you can not only track the amount of traffic to your website, but also the total page views, bounce rate and average number of pages per visit.
- Tracks bounce rate and pages views.
- Tracks average number of pages per visitor.
- Gives you a map view of visits by country.
- Shows you what your top pages are.
- Shows you your top referrers and top searches.
JetPack Stats is a simple, yet effective way to gauge your traffic. JetPack Stats (which come pre-bundled in the JetPack plugin, so no need to install another plugin to get it up and running) tells you the top referrers, top posts and pages, number of subscribers, search engine terms used to find your page (which usually doesn’t work) and where your visitors clicked (off site).
- Top posts and pages.
- Where your traffic clicked to off site.
- Able to view traffic in days, weeks, or months (great for seeing whether your traffic is gradually increasing).
- Shows who your top referrers are.
Clicky by Yoast
Tracks lots of things, including visitors to your blog.
You need a way for others to contact you. Either using a simple contact form, or an advanced one, the choice is yours but having a Contact page on your website is a must.
Quforms is an advanced, feature rich, form plugin that enables users to create fancy forms using a drag and drop builder. Create everything from contact forms and job applications, to newsletters and booking requests.
- Drag-and-drop builder.
- Simple interface.
- Preview while building.
- Pre-made templates available.
- 9 optional validators to require specific info from those using form.
- Plenty of customization options.
Contact Form 7
Contact Form 7 is a simple but flexible plugin that can be used to create and manage multiple forms.
FormCraft is another advanced forms plugin, enabling you to use the templates to create contact forms and sign up forms using the drag-and-drop builder.
- Add smiley ratings, star ratings, thumb rating, sliders and more.
- Responsive on mobile devices.
- Multi-column layouts.
- Able to embed maps and videos.
Yet another advanced contact form plugin, Usernoise is great for making your contact page more ‘fancy’ looking than the usual, default contact page look.
- Mobile responsive.
- Editable feedback categories.
- Compatible with WordPress Multi-site.
- Integrates with Akismet to fight off spam.
While gallery plugins aren’t ‘essential’ for all blogs, many blog owners want/need to display galleries on their website. If you don’t need gallery functionality on your blog you can skip this section.
Justified Image Grid
Justified Image Grid is one of the most popular and feature rich gallery plugins available for WordPress. It is also one of the top gallery plugins on Code Canyon, coming with an array of advanced features to spruce up your image galleries.
- Social media share bar on images.
- Mobile responsive.
- Customizable and comes with filtering and special effect tools.
- Infinite Scroll supported.
- Support for cropping images.
- Over 300 unique settings.
- Supports lightbox.
Media Grid is similar to Justified Image Gallery, with it you can create impressive looking image (or video and audio) galleries, integrate it with WooCommerce and add captions and social sharing icons to your image galleries.
- Support for audio and video.
- Shortcode support.
- Huge array of customization options.
- One click setup with 10 preset styles to choose from.
NextGen Gallery, with its over 11 million downloads, is one of the more well-known image gallery plugins. The regular version has a few basic and advanced features, but you can upgrade to the pro version to get access to all features including Image Proofing, social sharing for images, Deeplinking and mobile responsiveness.
Building an Email List
Building an email list is essential once your blog starts to get bits of traffic, as it helps you build a loyal following of readers. There are plenty of options to choose from when you are building your email list, but I have only used two services, both of which are top notch and relatively cheap.
This option is one of the cheaper email marketing plugins to turn to. Ironically it’s also one of the most advanced, especially with the design interface which gives you near endless options when it comes to customization. Also, unlike OptinMonster, Hybrid Connect comes with unlimited, free updates for life as long as you purchase the ‘multiple sites’ plan ($67).
- Able to create squeeze pages.
- Over 30 templates available.
- Ability to ask readers to subscribe after they leave a comment.
- Support for shortcode.
- Opt-in form for sidebar and at bottom of all posts.
- Pop-up opt-in form available.
- Unlimited updates with the ‘multiple sites’ plan ($67).
OptinMonster is another extremely popular email marketing plugin which, like Hybrid Connect, supports several different placements for your email opt-in (pop-up, sidebar, after post). People worried about site speed should probably consider this option over Hybrid Connect since OptinMonster has a very light weight design. What’s great about OptinMonster is that you only need to add the addons that you plan on using. If you don’t need the feature, you don’t need to install it which helps save resources.
The only negative with using this service is the price. The basic plan is at $49, which would be great but it doesn’t come with the option to add your opt-in after posts, in your sidebar, or in the footer bar (the $99 pro plan does). Another thing to consider is that unlike Hybrid Connect, OptinMonster only gives you support and updates for one year. That is unless you buy the ridiculous “ultimate” plan that has a $500 price tag, but comes with free updates for life.
- Add-on for Mobile.
- Display opt-ins on multiple places in your website.
- Able to add your opt-ins using a shortcode.
- Very lightweight.
Other Useful Plugins
Google Adsense by BestWebSoft – An easy-to-use plugin to display Google ads on your blog. With Google Adsense you are able to customize the way your ad looks such as the color, choose how many ads to display on a page and pick the layout.
WP Simple Adsense Insertion – This is a great alternative to Adsense by BestWebSoft. While it doesn’t have as many features, it is a simpler plugin that allows you to display ads via shortcode or by calling the php function.
WordPress Simple PayPal Shopping Cart – Another simple plugin that allows you to sell products or services right from your blog. This is an especially useful plugin if you are wanting to sell some type of digital product like an eBook.
WooCommerce – If you want to go all out when selling products online, WooCommerce is the plugin to go with. With this extremely powerful plugin you can turn your website into a beautiful eCommerce store.
Seemless Donations – If you want to have a donation button on your website, Seemless Donations is one of the most feature rich options. With it you can display a donation icon on your website, track those who donated and send customized thank you messages to your donors.
Membership Pro – Membership Pro enables you to create a membership system on your website. Set up recurring payments, protect certain content from being accessed, sell courses and create any type of subscription plan you want.
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – An advanced plugin to display related posts on all of your articles. The basic version is free but you can also upgrade to the pro version for even more features.
WP-Polls – Easily add a poll system to your blog with this popular plugin.
Simple Tags – A great plugin to use to manage your blog’s tags.
Well, after nearly 4000 words I think I covered most of the essential plugins, did I miss anything? Comment away with a list of some of your own, favorite plugins.