One of the fastest and easiest ways to improve your WordPress blog is to activate a plugin. Plugins are modules that extend the functionality of 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 code or anything like that for most of them – just install, activate and it’s done.
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 out, 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 in order to be setup. Quality signs to look for are plugins with high number of downloads, regular and recent updates and good reviews. 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.
A word of warning before we proceed. Adding too many plugins can make your site heavy and slow to load. Make sure you only use plugins that are necessary in order 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 identify plugins that slow your site down – see it further down in this list. For more ways to speed up your site take a look here.
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 is the list of plugins that I find most useful. It includes some of the most downloaded plugins ever.
- Akismet – 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.
- Comment Redirect – 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.
- Subscribe To Comments – 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.
- CommentLuv – 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.
- Disqus – 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.
- Contact Form 7 – If you need a contact form on your site, this plugin is simple to setup and works great. I use it for all contact forms, see it for example in my “about” page.
- WP Greet Box – Display a different greeting message to your visitor depending on which site they are coming from.
- What Would Seth Godin Do – Allows you to display a specific message to your new, first time visitors only.
- Google Analytics – 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.
- Jetpack by WordPress.com – This plugin offers many features. One of them is simple and concise stats tool. It’s a light alternative to Google Analytics.
- Search Meter – 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.
Speed up your blog
- W3 Total Cache – 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 in case you hit front page of Reddit.com and start getting tons of traffic. I use it on my site.
- WP-Optimize – Allows you to clean up and optimize your database to make it run better. You can also remove all your post revisions automatically.
- WP Smush.it – 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.
- P3 Profiler – It measures the plugin impact on your page load. Install it to identify plugins that make your site slow to load.
- BJ Lazy 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.
- BackWPUp – 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.
- Broken Link Checker – When you start posting frequently, 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.
- WordPress Importer – 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.
- Redirection – Manages 301 redirections and keeps track of 404 errors in a very simple interface without you needing access or experience with .htaccess files.
- Members – A user, role, and content management tool that makes WordPress a more powerful CMS. It is especially useful for multi-author sites.
- Search and Replace – 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.
Social media integration
- Simple Social Icons – A simple and nice looking font driven social icons widget that allows you to place links to your social media profiles in your sidebar.
- Social Sharing By Danny – 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.
- Pinterest Pin It Button For Images – 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).
- Social Locker – 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 in order to get access to the content.
Search engine optimization
- WordPress SEO by Yoast – 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.
- WP-PageNavi – Adds a more advanced paging navigation interface.
Improve the look and feel of your site
- Widgets Controller – A plugin that give you control to show or hide widgets on a page by page basis.
- Notification Bar – A quick and easy notification bar and call to action for the top of your site.
- Fancier Author Box – Give more identity to your single or multi-author website with nice looking author box at the end of posts.
- Q2W3 Fixed Widget – Allows you to put in a sticky widget in your sidebar so it scrolls through with the visitor and you never have any empty space in your sidebar. I use it on my site.
- NextGEN Gallery – A full integrated image gallery with dozens of options and features.
- Infinite-Scroll – 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 newsfeed, in Twitter feed and in Google image search results.
- WP-Note – Lets you insert notes in your article to make parts of your text stand out more.
- Table of Contents Plus – Automatically creates table of contents for your long form posts and allows you to display it in a nice and user friendly way.
Add extra functionality to your site
- Ajaxy Live Search – 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. Alternative is Swiftype Search which comes with detailed analytics and controls.
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – Displays a list of related posts at the end of your articles. Allows customization of the display – you can show thumbnails for example. A New York Times-style alternative to this is upPrev which displays a flyout in the bottom right corner of the screen with a related post.
- podPress – Very useful plugin for podcasters.
- GTranslate – Allow translations with a single click between 58 languages on your site.
- WP e-Commerce – Use WordPress to create your own online store.
- ZipList Recipe Plugin – If you run a food or a lifestyle site this plugin adds all the necessary microdata to your recipes, so they will show up in Google’s Recipe Search.
- Scroll Triggered Box – 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.
- WP Missed Schedule Fix – If you are scheduling your posts you might experience the Missed Schedule error. This plugin fixes that issue.
- SOUP – Show off Upcoming Posts – This plugin displays your upcoming scheduled posts in a sidebar widget.
- Bump the Schedule – This plugin lets you bump the dates of scheduled posts and saves you time in cases where you have multiple posts scheduled.