With so many great plugins out there, it can be difficult to decide which are really useful and necessary and which are not. Here’s my guide to the 15 essential plugins for WordPress blogs.
If you have a WordPress blog, you will probably be familiar with the term ‘plugin’, and probably have quite a few on your site. There are about a gazillion plugins available to WordPress bloggers and once you’ve figured out just how awesome they are, it’s rather tempting to go a bit mad and start collecting hundreds of them.
Too many plugins can cause your site to be super slow and even cause security problems for your blog.
The trick with plugins is to just use the ones you really need. You want to keep in balance their fantastic awesomeness, with your need for a site that loads quickly (Why is site speed important? See my post on how to improve site speed for an explanation).
But with so many fab plugins it can be a little difficult to decide which ones are truly necessary and which ones are just a waste of time.
So to help you out, here’s my guide to the 15 essential plugins for WordPress blogs…
(Please note since I originally wrote this blog post I have moved my two main blogs from SiteGround to BigScoots. However, I still have a couple of smaller projects with SiteGround and I still recommend them as a good host for new and smaller bloggers. To see how SiteGround compares to BigScoots, check out my post BigScoots vs SiteGround – which is the best hosting company?)
1. Akismet (FREE)
This plugin is all about protecting your comments section from spam and saving you time. If Akismet suspects a comment is spam it will put it in a separate section of your comments for you to review first.
Depending on how you have things set up in your SETTINGS => DISCUSSION section, comments will go into one section for approval and a separate section if Akismet thinks they are spam. That way you don’t need to sift through reams and reams of spam to moderate the ‘real’ comments.
Alternatively, if you have comment moderation turned off in your discussion settings, it means your comments won’t be littered with spam.
Akismet is usually pretty accurate (I only occasionally get a comment landing in the wrong place) and I make it a habit to go into the spam section regularly and delete anything unwanted and release anything the spam filter accidentally trapped.
2. All In One WP Security & Firewall (FREE)
You need a security plugin on your website – a security plugin will prevent your blog from getting hacked! There are a number of good ones around (I’ve heard good things about Sucuri and WordFence, for example), but All In One WP Security & Firewall is the one I use and recommend. It’s pretty straightforward to set up, even for a non-techie like me and it has a number of useful features, such as the ability to change your login URL to something other that /wp-admin (so the hackers can’t find you), the ability to add extra security to your login process (such as a nice little maths problem to solve) and to the ability to lock out a certain IP address if they try and fail to login a certain number of times (just make sure you whitelist your own ip address so you don’t lock yourself out!!).
3. ConvertKit (INCLUDED IN THE PRICE OF CONVERTKIT)
If you have ConvertKit*, this plugin is essential. It allows you to easily put email signup forms on your website and integrates with the ConvertKit app so that when someone signs up for your newsletter on your website, they are automatically added to your list of subscribers on your list ConvertKit. ConvertKit’s forms are attractive, super easy to use and can be placed almost anywhere on your site – giving you a better chance of attracting more subscribers to your list.
If you don’t have ConvertKit, chances are your email service provider will have a similar plugin.
READ MORE >>> How to get started with email marketing and get your first subscribers
READ MORE >>> A beginner’s guide to ConvertKit
READ MORE >>> 26 reasons why ConvertKit is the best email marketing service for bloggers
4. CoSchedule (INCLUDED IN THE PRICE OF COSCHEDULE)
If you have CoSchedule* then this plugin is essential as it allows you to link your WordPress website to your CoSchedule calendar, meaning seamless integration of your blog and social media.
Inside CoSchedule you can create and schedule a WordPress post, schedule all the social media associated with that post and have all the analytics together in one place. It will all show up on one calendar on both the CoSchedule App and your WordPress dashboard.
READ MORE >>> How to use CoSchedule to get more done in less time on your blog
READ MORE >>> How to schedule your social media with CoSchedule
READ MORE >>> How to automate your social media with CoSchedule ReQueue
5. GDPR Cookie Consent (FREE)
GDPR Cookie Consent is the one I use on this site and I would really recommend it. It’s simple to set up, very easily adjusted and you can get it to match your brand colours. If you want to see what it looks like, just go into an incognito window (or a different browser) and head to www.productiveblogging.com and you will see it pop up at the bottom of my site.
6. Health Check & Troubleshooting (FREE)
This plugin will perform a number of checks on your website to detect errors and problems, and will give you report on the overall health of your blog. But the best part of this plugin is that it will allow you to troubleshoot problems on your blog which you think might have been caused by a plugin or theme conflict, without affecting the experience your readers are having on the front end of your blog while you do it. You can use the Health Check & Troubleshooting plugin to disable all your plugins and then re-enable each plugin one by one to find out which plugin, or which combination of plugins is causing you a problem. You can also change the theme, to see if it is your theme causing the problems.
7. Smash Balloon Instagram Feed (FREE)
OK this one isn’t exactly ESSENTIAL, but it does look good and it’s free and very easy to set up. It gives you a widget to put in any of your widget spaces and shows your Instagram feed. It’s very customisable – you can see two examples of how very different it can look on this blog. Look in the sidebar and the footer to see two options of how it can be set up.
(Note: If site speed is a major concern for your blog, then I advise that you don’t use this plugin as it will slow your blog down a little. Whether you use this plugin or not really depends on which is more important for you: speed or aesthetics.)
8. Ninja Forms (FREE)
This simple plugin will allow you to create a contact form on any page or post on your site. You can create a contact me page and add a form there so people can contact you without you having to share your email address. To see mine visit my Contact Me Page.
The Ninja Form is fully customisable, meaning you can ask for the exact information you need. Once completed and sent by your reader, the Ninja form will be emailed to an email address of your choice.
9. Pretty Links (FREE)
Again not exactly ESSENTIAL but pretty awesome! This will allow you to take any link (on your site or not) and turn it into a much more attractive link. So say, for example, I set up a landing page to get people to sign up for my newsletter, Convertkit will give me a link to send people to. That link might look like this: https://app.convertkit.com/landing_pages/400014
Not exactly attractive is it?
But using Pretty Links I can turn this into something much more attractive. In the above example I turned this landing page into: https://www.productiveblogging.com/coming-soon which I then put in all my social profiles while I was still working on Productive Blogging.
Go on try both links and see how amazing it is! No more ugly links, only pretty links!
10. SG Optimizer (INCLUDED WITH SITEGROUND HOSTING)
This plugin is essential if you want to take advantage of all the performance optimisations provided by SiteGround*, such as the SuperCacher – a caching pluging that will speed up your website. You can also use the SG Optimizer to enable HTTPS with a single click and it will allow you to force HTTPS on, enabling the HTTPS redirect for your whole site and rewriting the all the links from http to https.
This plugin will only work if you are hosted with SiteGround. For more about the benefits of SiteGround – head over to this post: How to choose the right host for your blog (and why I chose SiteGround)
11. Simple Social Icons (FREE)
Another essential to have on your blog is a way of directing people to your social media profiles so they can follow you on social media too. As the name suggests Simple Social Icons is a very simple plugin that will allow you to create attractive links to your social media profiles to put in your sidebar.
You can see an example in my sidebar (Where it says ‘Let’s Connect’, just under my ‘About Me’ section. You can customise the colours, sizes, backgrounds, borders and more via a very easy-to-use widget.
12. Social Warfare (FREE)
A social sharing plugin is definitely essential, as it allows your readers to share your blog posts with their friends and followers via their social media accounts. There are many social sharing plugins, but this is the this is the best one I’ve found so far. The basic account is free and there is also a premium version. Whilst the premium version does have some great features, the free version is very good in its own right.
The free version gives you sharing buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. You can choose where in the post they appear (above, below, both or anywhere within your post). It gives you various options for share counts and total counts, and it gives you the option for floating sharing buttons too, so the sharing buttons are always in view. It also allows you to have slightly different settings for mobile so the share buttons don’t cover your content on small screens. And it includes a ‘click to tweet’ option too. All of this FOR FREE!
The premium version of Social Warfare* is currently $29 per year (correct at 19/8/20) and has all the above features plus additional sharing options (e.g. Reddit, Tumbler, Buffer, Email etc.), Twitter tweet counts, an image hover pin button, the option to select a particular image and/or text for social shares. It also offers different button colours and shapes, different ‘click to tweet’ styles and recovery of lost share counts (for example if you’ve gone from HTTP to HTTPS), and loads more stuff besides – personally I think all that’s well worth spending $29. But the free version is still good if you decide not to upgrade.
(EDIT: since I first wrote this, I have also discovered another really good social sharing plugin: Grow Social Pro. I think both of these social sharing plugins are really good and, in fact, I use Grow Social Pro on my food blog, Easy Peasy Foodie, and Social Warfare on this blog.)
13. VaultPress ($3 a month)
Having an offsite backup is a BIG essential. I’ve tried a few backups but VaultPress is by far the best one I’ve used. It’s run by the same people who run WordPress.com, Akismet and Jetpack, so you know you can trust it and it’s well worth it. This plugin will do a backup of your site every day. This gives you peace of mind that if the worst should happen to your blog, you can always restore a backup and the most you will have lost is the last 24 hours. For less than the price of a takeaway coffee PER MONTH, I’d say that was worth it! Head over to the VaultPress website* to get this one. (Price of $3 correct at 19/08/20.)
14. WP Recipe Maker (FREE)
(For food blogs only) Having a recipe card plugin is essential if you plan to share recipes on your website. WP Recipe Maker* is the one I recommend and the one I use on my food blog, www.easypeasyfoodie.com.
There is a free version and a premium version with more bells and whistles. But to be honest the free version is incredibly good. The main advantage of the premium version is you get help calculating the nutrition information and a unit conversion option (great if you are a Brit trying to reach an American audience or vice versa).
Having a good recipe plugin is vital for SEO and is also super useful for your readers. Do include all the required information, as this will help your recipe perform best on search engines (and of course help your readers out the best too).
15. Yoast (FREE)
This plugin is essential if you want to perform well on search engines. For more on search engine optimization (SEO) and the Yoast plugin, read: A beginner’s guide to SEO for bloggers and How to use the Yoast SEO Plugin to grow your blog
How to install a plugin…
Just in case you are a little hazy, here is a quick guide to help you install plugins…
To install a plugin on your site is very simple. Find the PLUGINS section down the left-hand side of your dashboard and hover over it. Choose ADD NEW and you’ll be taken to this screen…
Use the search box on the right-hand side to search by name for the plugin you have chosen. Then click on the grey INSTALL NOW, then ACTIVATE. You will usually be taken to a screen where it shows you how to set up the plugin. Set up the plugin how you want it and you are good to go.
Don’t forget to update!
It’s vitally important that you always remember to update your plugins. Updating plugins increases security on your site, fixes bugs, ensures everything is compatible and adds features and functionality. I make it a habit to go in and update my plugins once a week. One word of warning though: every now and again an update is released that causes problems. I always allow at least 1 week from when a plugin is released to when I update, just to ensure that any issues are ironed out!
All of this post about plugins assumes you have a Self-Hosted WordPress site. If you do not, I really recommend that you look into transferring to Self-Hosted WordPress as it will serve you better in the long run and give you access to all these amazing plugins and more.
For an explanation of the difference between self-hosted and hosted and how to decide which one is better, check out this post: Hosted vs self-hosted: which is best for your blog?
For help in actually setting up a self-hosted WordPress blog, check out this post: How to start a successful WordPress blog – a step by step guide
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Which are your favourite plugins and why? Is there anything you feel I should definitely have included on my list?
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*This blog post contains affiliate links, this means if you click on a link and go on to buy the product I recommend, I will get a small commission, but you will not be charged a penny more – thanks in advance!