One of the fastest and easiest ways to improve your WordPress blog is to install and activate a plugin.
Plugins are modules that extend WordPress. There are thousands of developers who build plugins that anyone can use to improve the look, feel and functionality of their sites. There’s a plugin for everything. Most are free and can be implemented with little hassle. You don’t need to know how to code either – just install, activate and it’s done.
There have been more than one billion downloads of WordPress plugins until now. Over the years I have tested and used many of the best WordPress plugins. Installing essential plugins is one of the first things I do after starting a new blog. This article features the list of plugins that I find most useful. It includes some of the most downloaded plugins ever.
First of all a quick guide on installing a plugin for the first time.
How to install a WordPress plugin
First thing first. Let’s have a look at how you can install a plugin. WordPress makes it very simply not only to install and test but also to delete a plugin you do not find useful.
Do explore the plugin section of your WordPress admin (just click on Plugins in the left hand sidebar). When you find a plugin that you want to try, click on the name, “Install” and “Activate”. Most plugins will work out of the box as soon as you activate them. Some will need you to go through the “Settings” section to be setup. Quality plugin signs to look for are:
- High number of downloads and active installs
- Regular updates to the plugin
- Recent updates to the plugin
- Good ratings and reviews from the users
- Developer that’s accessible and answers questions in the forum
In order to keep your WordPress blog as safe and secure as possible it is recommended not to download plugins from other sources other than the official WordPress directory. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on installing a WordPress plugin:
- In “Plugins” in left hand sidebar click on “Add New”.
- This leads you to an overview of featured plugins. Up in the top navigation you can also select “Popular” (most downloaded plugins), “Recommended” (according to the other plugins you have installed) and “Favorites” (any plugin that you have marked as favorite).
- Alternatively in the top right you can actually use the search box to search for the name of the plugin you want to install.
- For each plugin there is a quick overview with plugin name, brief description, number of downloads, the user rating and last updated date. Learn more about a specific plugin by clicking on “More details”. Also make sure that the plugin has the check that it is compatible with your WordPress version.
- If you’re happy with a plugin and want to test it, install it by clicking on “Install Now” button.
- Click on “Ok” in the pop-up window to finish the install process.
- When the installation is complete, click on “Activate Plugin”.
- This is it. The new plugin is now activated and live. If you want you can find the settings of the plugin in your navigation and customize it.
- If you wish to delete a plugin go into the “Plugins” section again and click on “Installed Plugins” for an overview of all plugins you have installed. Click on “Deactivate” when the plugin is active. Then click on “Delete” to remove the plugin files. On the next page, click on “Yes, delete these files”. That’s it.
Mo plugins mo problems?
A word of warning before we go ahead with the list of most useful WordPress plugins.
Adding too many plugins can make your site heavy and slow to load. Make sure you only use plugins that are necessary to achieve a better usability and user experience. Do not go overboard. Keep it simple. Keep an eye on the speed and performance.
If a plugin is not what you expected or you no longer use it, just click on “Deactivate” and “Delete” the plugin. There’s even a plugin that will help you find plugins that slow your site down – see it further down in this list.
For more ways to speed up your WordPress site take a look here.
50+ of the best and most downloaded WordPress plugins ever
Now let’s get started with a list of best WordPress plugins that you should check out:
This plugin offers many features and is created by the Automattic team, the company behind WordPress. This makes it a very solid plugin that’s worth exploring. One of the features is a simple and concise visitor stats tool. Jetpack also helps you integrate features such as infinite scroll, contact forms, mobile responsive design theme, site search, anti-spam, social media sharing, related posts, spell checking and many more.
Jetpack also allows self-hosted WordPress.org sites to use the new Calypso tool from WordPress. Installing Jetpack helps you reduce the number of plugins you need to run on your blog.
The more popular your site is, the more spam comments you will get. This plugin will help you save a lot of time. It checks your comments to see if they look like spam or not. For more advice on spam protection see here.
Redirect your first time commenters to a page of your choice. Thank them. Ask them to subscribe to you. This can help turn a first-time visitor into a fan. Alternative to this is Thank Me Later that sends a ‘thank you’ email to your commenters.
Allows commenters to tick a box before commenting and get e-mail notification of further comments. This helps foster a community around your site by encouraging commenters to come back and stay engaged in the conversation.
Encourage more comments by rewarding your visitors by automatically placing a link to their last post at the end of their comment. This works especially well if your visitors are running sites themselves.
You can even switch from WordPress comments system to something else. Disqus arguably allows better subscription opportunities, better login integration with social media, extra moderation options and can even feature related articles and discussions. I use it on my site.
If you need a contact form on your site, this plugin is simple to set up and works great. A super simplified alternative of this is Super Simple Contact Form.
Display a different greeting message to your visitor depending on which site they are coming from.
Allows you to display a specific message to your new, first time visitors only.
This plugin makes it easy for you to insert your Google Analytics code and start tracking your visitors. Learn more about Analytics and how data helps your site here.
This tracks what your visitors search for in your “search” field. You can know what your visitors are looking for and what they find. Can help you make your design more usable and give you some topic ideas to cover.
It dramatically improves the speed by using cache as well as Minify and content delivery network (CDN). It helps your server handle a higher load without crashing, which can help if you hit front page of Reddit.com and start getting tons of traffic. I use it on my site.
Allows you to clean up and optimize your database to make it run better. You can also remove all your post revisions automatically.
This plugin reduces your image files size automatically and makes your site faster and easier to load. EWWW Image Optimizer is an alternative to this.
It measures the plugin impact on your page load. Install it to find plugins that make your site slow to load.
For image heavy sites. Only load images that are in the browser’s view (i.e. above the fold) and load the rest only as the visitor scrolls down the page.
On-demand backup. It can also backup in an automated schedule. It allows you to save the database backup to your computer, in the cloud or get it sent via email.
When you start posting often, you will soon have so many posts and pages that it will be hard to manually check them one by one. This plugin automatically checks all your content and informs you of any broken links.
Imports posts, pages, comments, custom fields, categories, tags and more from a WordPress.com export file into your self-hosted site. See more on this process here.
Manages 301 redirections and keeps track of 404 errors in a very simple interface without you needing access or experience with .htaccess files.
A user, role, and content management tool that makes WordPress a more powerful CMS. It is especially useful for multi-author sites.
This one can save you a lot of time. For example if you have moved the domain name and now want to change all the internal links throughout your site. This plugin makes it a one-click process. Alternative to this is Velvet Blues Update URL’s.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’d like to convert a page into a post? Or a post into a page? This plugin is perfect for those cases. Makes the process very simple directly from your dashboard.
A simple and nice looking font driven social icons widget that allows you to place links to your social media profiles in your sidebar.
Sharing buttons done in simple and lightweight way without using any external scripts making them very quick to load. Includes Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Jetpack by WordPress plugin that I mentioned earlier in the post has a good alternative to this with more networks if you need that. Another good alternative is Mashshare which allows you to display total count of all shares Mashable style.
Displays a Pin It button directly over your images and helps you drive traffic from Pinterest. Perfect for sites that feature great imagery (fashion, travel, food blogs).
Allows you to insert “click to tweet” boxes into your content and prompt your visitors to share more of your posts on Twitter.
When used for PDF reports and similar, it can help increase your social media presence by making your visitors tweet, plus one, or Facebook like to get access to the content.
A good SEO solution. It combines what two of the most popular plugins ever used to do: helps you optimize your on-page SEO (META Title, Description and Keywords) and generates a XML sitemap for search engines to easier find and index your content. I use it on my site.
Adds a more advanced paging navigation interface.
Create your own custom widgetized areas and sidebars. Allows you to pick on which pages a certain sidebar should show.
A quick and easy notification bar and call to action for the top of your site.
Give more identity to your single or multi-author website with nice looking author box at the end of posts.
Allows you to put in a sticky widget in your sidebar so it scrolls through alongside the visitor. This helps you never have any blank space in your sidebar. I use it on my site.
For all you running multilingual blogs and sites. This plugin makes the process of having multiple version of your content in different languages very simple and user-friendly.
A full integrated image gallery with dozens of options and features.
Instead of splitting your pages with pagination you can allow your visitors to keep scrolling continuously while your site loads more and more of your articles. You see this in action in your Facebook news feed, in Twitter feed and in Google image search results. Updated version of this plugin is available through Jetpack that I mentioned above.
Lets you insert notes in your article to make parts of your text stand out more.
Automatically creates table of contents for your long form posts and allows you to display it in a nice and user-friendly way.
Boost your navigation menu with this mega menu and fly out menu. It’s responsive, retina and touch ready.
If you are a video blogger and work a lot with video embeds this plugin is a big time saver. It auto resizes your videos to full-width and keeps the original aspect ratio.
Most premium themes allow you to change fonts but if you don’t run a premium theme this plugin makes it easy for you to use a different font (more than 600 available) to spice up your site.
This replaces the default search form. It is very much like Facebook or Google search. Upon starting to type a search query your visitor will get a drop down of different options and results. Comes with detailed analytics and controls. Alternative is Ajax Live Search.
Displays a list of related posts at the end of your articles. Allows customization of the display – you can even show thumbnails of the posts.
This is a New York Times-style alternative to related posts from above. It displays a fly out in the bottom right corner of the screen with a related post.
The most popular podcasting plugin for WordPress. Supports iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and more.
Allow translations with a single click between 58 languages on your site.
Use WordPress to create your own online store. Alternative to this is the WordPress-owned Woocommerce.
If you run a blog with food recipes this plugin adds all the necessary microdata to your recipes, so they will show up in Google’s Recipe Search.
If you’re trying to convert more of your visitors it is worth testing pop-up boxes. This plugin offers a beautiful and simple solution.
Some bloggers monetize their sites by accepting reader donations. This plugin helps you do just that. Add PayPal buttons in your content or in the sidebar.
Make your posts more shareable and social media friendly by creating and adding a variety of interactive charts with this plugin.
Need to show maps in your posts? This is a simple and great looking solution that works with Google Maps.
If you are scheduling your posts you might experience the Missed Schedule error. This plugin fixes that issue.
This plugin displays your upcoming scheduled posts in a sidebar widget.
Hope you found this list useful!