When setting up your site, you often feel that finding the right plugins is a difficult task. It is difficult because you sometimes might get “greedy”, wanting to have all possible functionalities, even such that you aren’t quite sure you need. You can also feel lost in the ocean of plugins out there – what do you really need and which one is the best plugin?
Making the right choice isn’t easy but is very important, as any additional (and possibly unnecessary) plugin affects website performance negatively.
This post will help you figure out, what kinds of plugins are really necessary for an average blog or site. You’ll also find plugin recommendations (all recommended plugins are totally free and tested by WPBN), accompanied by explanations of functions and reasons, why to choose them.
A SEO plugin is one of these plugins that you shouldn’t skip. Even though SEO isn’t essential for the existence or functionality of a website, there are many reasons to install a SEO plugin:
- SEO plugins can handle the creation of a XML sitemap. A sitemap is a must, as it helps search engines discover your site and all new pages on it. This functionality replaces effectively a separate XML-sitemap plugin.
- SEO plugins make it possible to optimize your content by editing meta titles and descriptions. This allows you to customize the way your links appear in search and thus increase the CTR (click-through rate).
- SEO plugins can help you optimize for chosen keywords by calculating the concentration of keywords in your texts. One might argue that this isn’t a must-have feature, as the newest SEO advice is to keep away from keyword stuffing and write as naturally as possible. It is, however, an easy way to make sure that you in fact have written a focused text, containing certain number of relevant keywords.
- SEO plugins can handle some integrations, such as Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. This means that you can spare yourself for yet another plugin. Such integrations are important, as they allow you to monitor your site’s performance and health. Even though there are plugins that allow you to view stats directly in WordPress, you should remember that every plugin you install slows down your pages – besides you can always check the stats by logging into your respective accounts.
- SEO plugins can do a lot for the promotion of your site by adding structured data to your pages and extending the meta data functionality with dedicated social media meta data for each of the major networks.
- In addition, SEO plugins can feature a long list of options, including bad bot blocker, robots.txt editor, .htaccess editor, system check, and much more.
A SEO plugin is therefore something you should install as one of the first plugins on your site. In order to get the most out of it, it is a good idea to do some research to find out, which plugin is the best choice for you.
WPBN recommends All in One SEO, as it’s easy to work with, features quality code, it’s updated regularly, it’s one of the absolutely most popular SEO plugins out there, together with Yoast SEO. It has a free and paid version but the majority of sites will be just fine with free version.
Caching is one of these optimization steps that shouldn’t be skipped. Caching helps website performance by enabling browsers and intermediate caches to save current versions of your pages and serve them to site visitors, without sending the client request all the way to the origin server. This results in fast page loading, one of the prerequisites for site visitor satisfaction. Caching is therefore one of the most important optimization tasks Google focuses on in their PageSpeed Insights.
Caching can, in fact, be implemented without using plugins, by inserting a piece of code in .htaccess on the server. This should, however, only be done by someone, who really understands, what they are doing. Simply because wrong caching settings can make your new content undiscoverable for long periods of time.
It is therefore recommended to use a plugin that can handle caching for you. WPBN recommends W3 Total Cache for a load of reasons:
- It offers flexible, yet simple caching, combined with options to flush everything or just a page/asset.
- It offers GZIP
- It offers CDN integration
- It is free
Because you have all these options combined in one plugin, you can avoid installing separate plugins for minification, GZIP, and CDN integration. Furthermore, W3 Total Cache is one of the leading caching plugins, which means that you are guaranteed updates, proper code, and bug fixes.
Even though W3 Total Cache is a heavy plugin, slowing down your website quite a bit, the benefits of all its optimization options, outweigh completely the damage it does.
Image optimization is, just as caching, a first priority task. Images make up to 60% of the total size of a page and proper optimization can reduce image size with up to 30-90%, depending on the type of file and graphic.
Just as with caching, you can super-optimize images without plugins, one-by-one. It isn’t complicated but takes time and can turn out to be more than you can handle, as long as you run an established site with many images.
While neither of these plugins lives fully up to Google’s optimization standards, they can still help you reduce the total size of your pages dramatically, as well as convert your images into wepb.
Both plugins are free to use but have paid options. However, the free versions are fully functional and don’t limit you in any other way than the number of images you can optimize (only ShortPixel, you get 100 images a month for free).
You don’t, per say, need to have a contact form on your website. If you, however, want to engage people, you should have one. It can help you not only engage site visitors but also grow your email marketing list, get in touch with potential customers and partners, allow you to demonstrate your expertise by answering questions.
In fact, there are advanced contact forms allowing you to do much more: collect payments and donations, use conditional logic, make multi page forms, create surveys, etc. Unfortunately, many of them are quite pricy.
Therefore, WPBN has chosen to recommend a plugin that might not be just as advanced but works flawlessly and is completely free to use: Contact Form 7.
Many beginners can get scared by the looks of the form setup page (the screenshot above), as the combination of shortcode and HTML isn’t easy to swallow for those, who’ve never touched code before. You shouldn’t, however, hesitate to use the plugin.
All the code that you see gets generated by a simple click on one of the available buttons. You are then free to customize the form by, for example, changing the text that is displayed on your site.
The rest of the settings allow you to customize the messages sent in connection to submitting a form (to submitter and site admin) and the mails notifications should be sent to.
Contact Form 7 is also one of the most popular contact form plugins with 5+ mill active installs, which is your guarantee that the plugin is supported and thoroughly tested.
Social sharing plugin is the absolute must for any website. Without social sharing, you doom your site to unpopular existence, where you can only count on paid search to get traffic. Why? Because social sharing is about much more than social networks.
Even if you don’t bother to create and support social media profiles, your site visitors are certainly active on social media. By sharing your content, they help you site in more than one way:
- Your site gets the ultimate traffic boost – a recommendation in the form of a share.
- You get more traffic
- Your pages generate ranking signals, such as session duration, bounce rate, pageviews, etc. As site visitors referred from social networks tend to spend more time on websites and bounce less than organic/paid traffic, your site is up for a SEO-treat.
- Your site can get backlinks as a result of more people engaging with your content and potentially sharing it with their own readers on blogs, in forums or in comments on other websites.
WPBN recommends the use of Add to Any. Add to Any is a very popular sharing plugin allowing you to do all of the following:
- Choose which social sharing buttons you want to use
- Customize their size and look
- Choose button positioning
- Choose to only show the sharing buttons on specific types of pages, as well as turn them off or on on any specific page.
- Use docked buttons instead of or in combination with the standard top-bottom positioning, allowing to always display them on the screen.
- Add follow buttons
- Use ready customization snippets from the Add to Any website (the link above) to tailor your social buttons.
Schema is a structured data markup that is the result of the collaboration between Google, Microsoft, Yandex, and Yahoo (see more at Schema.org). When added to your site’s code, it allows for advanced rendering of your content, resulting in so called rich snippets in search results and social media shares. In addition, it helps search engines understand your content better and classify it correctly. It is therefore a must to use structured data on your site.
However, it is almost none of the available WordPress themes that features Schema.org markup out of the box.
While you can run a site with no markup, it is highly recommended that you don’t. The SEO benefits of implementing structured data correctly are too important a reason. You should therefore make sure that Schema is properly implemented on your site.
WPBN recommends the Markup (JSON-LD) structured in schema.org plugin, as it has the following advantages:
- Allows you to use all of the most popular markup types out of the box
- Setup is easy and user friendly
- The plugin is lightweight
- The plugin helps you deliver rich snippets on all social media, including Twitter (this can spare you an additional plugin install)
- The plugin is absolutely free
By installing and setting up this plugin, you are ready to take on the SERP and claim more SERP real estate by displaying rich snippets. While the presence of structured data isn’t in itself a SEO ranking factor, implementing Schema can help your SEO by making your site both user friendly and search engine friendly.
You might now be wondering: what about Wordfence, Akismet, AdSense, Hello Dolly, Twitter Cards, XML sitemap, Google Analytics integration, etc.?
Well, you don’t need them. They don’t do anything you can’t effectively replace.
Just to exemplify this, let’s take a look at Akismet. A nice, sturdy anti-spam plugin. Who doesn’t need that, right?
Most websites don’t even allow commenting (or shouldn’t allow it), so they don’t need antispam plugin. Small bloggers will be much better off manually moderating comments – and reacting to quality comments in a timely manner.
Popular bloggers with many commenters are probably the only group that needs that kind of automation. As the percentage of bloggers with thousands of followers and many comments is quite low, I cannot recommend Akismet or another anti-spam plugin to all. Instead, turning commenting off would be the perfect spam protection for most site owners.