My love can’t be bought, y’all – but if I’m promoting stuff I use and recommend anyway, I’ll add an affiliate link if it’s possible. What that means is that you pay NO MORE than you would anyway, but I get some kind of cut that will help pay for this site to keep going. Win/win.
Thanks for scratching my back, and I’ll keep scratching yours by developing kick-ass content that actually helps you out in some way.
WordPress plugins are used to add functionality to your WordPress site.
Using the metaphor of your WordPress site being like your house (self-hosted WordPress being on property you own), plugins are like the electricity, heating, insulation, security system, doorbell, windows, running water (and so forth) in your house.
Plugins keep your site a safe and happy place. They allow your visitors to sign up for your newsletters, they let you design you content the way you want, they allow for accessibility options, they give your readers a way to contact you, they allow you to build and host forums on your site, and so. much. more.
Plugins are part of what makes having a self-hosted WordPress site worth it, because WordPress.com (hosted by Automattic) only allows a limited array of plugins. You can literally do anything to your site with plugins, and they are absolutely the funnest, most awesome thing on WordPress!
But there are things to be aware of with them:
First of all, plugins slow your site down. You really don’t want to go nuts with adding a ton of them because your site will slow to a crawl and all of your readers will run away.
Second, plugin incompatibility can break your site. You want to be sure to only add plugins that have been updated recently and that are compatible with your version of WordPress (which should be the latest version!).
Use them and have fun with them, by all means, but be careful.
Top WordPress Plugins:
- Akismet: this is a free plugin that keeps sites safe and spam out. It’s an essential.
- Jetpack: this is a massive plugin that Automattic puts out that can do pretty much everything. I use it for automatically publishing my content on social media, speeding up my site. The free bundle comes with related posts, site stats, photo galleries, portfolios, author information and so much more. I don’t personally like Jetpack as much as I used to, but I still think it’s a very useful free plugin, especially when you are first getting used to plugins.
- Social Warfare Pro: this is a paid plugin. What this plugin does is it allows me to hand-craft each post for Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest from the back end. It allows me to write out each social media blurb for all content that I produce. It also carries over all of my social media share counts and forces a social media share count regeneration. I use this plugin for my social sharing too.
- Yoast SEO: I use the free version. Yoast runs by a red-yellow-green light system in which it breaks down your content by assessing how SEO-friendly it is. You can make changes to your content until you hit the green light; then publish.
- WPBakery Page Builder (formerly called Visual Composer): this is a paid plugin, and absolutely indispensable. I use this plugin to build all of my pages, posts, and really, my entire site. I kind of wonder what the point of having a theme is anymore, because it’s so easy to make a site from scratch using WPBakery Page Builder.
- SumoMe: I use the free version of this on four of my sites, and the paid version on this one. The paid version is pretty expensive – I got it on a Cyber Monday deal at something like 75% off, and I’m going to be looking for it again this year. The free version is great but the paid version is absolutely incredible. It has fantastic social share options, supremely wonderful form building for email and newsletter sign ups, and streamlined linking to MailChimp (or any email subscription service) and sequenced integration. It also has live chat! Google analytics, “heat maps” (for sensing which pages are receiving action), excellent social sharing. I think this is the best all-round plugin out there.
- Pretty Link: I use the free version. This plugin takes any long link, be it an affiliate link or just a long post title, and allows you to create something easier to remember and more palatable. So, instead of say, http://goto.cupshop.com/c//357720/81938/2092357720/81938/2092/affjump, Pretty Link will make it look like http://www.meriahnichols.com/jump.
- WP Fastest Cache: It’s a free plugin that speeds up sites by deleting caches. W3 Total Cache works just as well.
- Monster Insights: it’s an easy-to-use (and free!) plugin for getting google analytics on your site. I can get lazy and use Jetpack for site stats, but as a site with partners and sponsors, it’s very important to have google analytics running, because my site partners want to see my stats from google, not from Jetpack.
- Pro Instagram Feed (by Smash Balloon): This is a paid plugin, and it’s the best for displaying an Instagram feed. It allows for multiple feeds (so, just buy one plugin license for up to 5 sites, with multiple Instagram accounts). It is completely customizable, and allows me to display the award-winning photos from the 365 Days with Disability Instagram Account that I run through this site.
- WP Author Bio: there are free versions of this out there, but I really liked this. It has tabs that include most recent posts, social media, and it’s fully customizable for color, photo, etc.
- WP Accessibility: Since I don’t use a screen reader or specific technology for reading on a website, I don’t actually know how effective this plugin is. But it has good reviews, and it doesn’t clog my site, so that’s a start.
- Backup: There are a lot of great backup plugins. I use Backup Buddy, but I am going to say that it’s just important to have a backup plan; not necessarily this particular plugin.
- Insert Headers and Footers: A Free plugin that lets you stay well the hell away from your theme code, but still add in tracking pixels and code.
More Essential Plugins for WordPress
I use a some essential plugins related to photos: EWWW Image Optimizer to compress my photos and speed up the loading time is the most important one.
I also use some for site design and building, using WPBakery (Visual Composer) as a foundation: Massive Add-ons and kaswara are my favorites, but I only recommend these or anything like these if you like the drag-drop concept of WPBakery (Visual Composer) and have a clear idea of what you want your site to look like.
My theme comes with required plugins (like Contact Form 7, Slider Revolution, Top 10) but I wouldn’t personally choose those; they don’t add enough value to me to clog down my site.
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.