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Sometimes you just need that little something to take your blog or website to the next level. Often that little something can be an easy addition in the form of a WordPress plugin. In this article, I am going to share with you the 20 best WordPress plugins for your blog.
Instead of just giving you 20 incredible plugins, this article is going to take you behind the scenes of this blog & I’m going to share with you the exact plugins that I use on this website & why I consider them to be the best… If we’re going to use something, it might as well be the best, am I right? 😉
For those of you not sure what a plugin is, you can think of a plugin as a 3rd party app that gives your blog additional features. A lot of plugins are free (in fact, most of the plugins I mention in this post are completely free) and some have paid upgrade/subscription plans to unlock further features.
Of the 20 WordPress Plugins listed below, I only pay for a couple and I’ll let you know which and why as we go through them. 😊
Now before we begin, there is one thing you are going to need if you do not already have it, and that’s a self-hosted WordPress blog or website.
I use & recommend Bluehost. They take care of hosting your website, automatically install WordPress in a matter of minutes, throw in a free domain name, and all of this at a very affordable price. Seriously, for less than a single coffee at Starbucks every month you can get your own blog up and running in minutes.
If you’re itching to get going started right away, find out more about Bluehost here.
I’ve also put together a detailed, easy-to-follow, guide to starting a blog for beginners here.
Now that you’ve got a blog, let’s add some features with these 20 useful WordPress plugins.
To keep things simple, I’ve split up the plugins into different groups based on their specific functions.
These plugins are not sorted in any particular order further, I have them all installed, activated, and running on my website and they all serve a particularly important purpose.
The majority of these plugins are free or have a free tier & the 3 plugins where I do have a paid subscription, I have noted below with the reasons why. 😉
WordPress Security Plugins
First up, and probably the most important of the lot, are the security plugins I use & recommend.
Akismet is a must when it comes to blogging in recent years. There are so many spam comments and contact form submissions that it would make it a real nightmare to have to go through manually to weed out the good comments from the bots, spammers, and just people looking to build links to their websites (which isn’t a very effective method in 2019 anyway).
Once you’ve installed Akismet, let the plugin save you time blocking spammers so that you can focus on more important things on your website/blog.
UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore
Backup your data.
It cannot be stated enough. Backing up your data regularly is a must when it comes to blogging. You’ve invested hours and hours into your blog, not just on the writing, but the layouts, the links, the graphics, etc. and if your website gets hacked or corrupted, it’s all gone.
Unless you’re backing up your files of course. And this is where UpdraftPlus comes in. I backup my site daily, but you can back up more often or even less than that depending on how often you update your blog. Daily works for me as I hate having to redo things and I tend to tweak things on the backend every day even if I haven’t posted something new.
All of your backups will be saved to a remote location, this can be to Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon S3, etc. you can even have them sent to your email. I personally use Google Drive for my convenience, and I retain 2 backups in case I need to go back beyond the last day.
Installing UpdraftPlus and setting up your backups is a simple process and only takes a matter of minutes. Once the set up is complete, the WordPress plugin will work silently in the background at whichever time you’ve assigned without you having to do a thing (your computer doesn’t even have to be on).
Think of Wordfence Security as an Anti-virus & firewall for your WordPress website. The plugin blocks malicious attempts at accessing your website & will send you a warning via email in real-time if your website is under attack or even if someone has logged in that you may want to know about.
There is a wide variety of features you can implement to limit access to certain IPs, whitelist IPs, set lockout limits for false password entries, and much more.
For a detailed guide on setting up Wordfence Security, here’s some recommended reading.
WordPress Optimization Plugins
Page speed, loading times, and ranking on Google (plus other search engines) is a vital part of running a blog.
From getting found to having your content load fast so that your readers don’t abandon your site before they can go through your posts, optimization plugins are a very important part of WordPress and I have (and recommend) a few to provide a faster and smoother user experience.
Google XML Sitemaps
XML sitemaps allow the crawlers used by search engines like Google and Bing to better see your website structure. This allows the search engines to better understand the content on your website and how to rank it.
I use Google XML Sitemaps because it’s very easy to set up, I can easily get the right .xml file to submit to search engines for indexing and whenever I create a new page or post to my blog or website, Google XML Sitemaps automatically notifies all of the major search engines to crawl the site. 😁
Yoast is a must for all bloggers. This WordPress plugin helps you with all thing’s SEO. From the initial set up where the wizard helps you set up keywords for your site and index your site with search engines (I still use Google XML Sitemaps for my Sitemaps though), to the on-page optimization, Yoast is a beast when it comes to creating searchable and readable content for your site.
Once you scroll down on the page/post editor, you’ll find the Yoast interface judging your every move. Like a disapproving parent, Yoast will let you know when you’ve done something wrong, and let you know what you need to do to correct it.
These aspects are relating to your post’s SEO, if you need to use keywords more often, link internally or externally more, Yoast is there to guide you. Readability is a lesser praised feature, but one I adore equally. The plugin will inform you if you’ve used a word too often at the beginning of a sentence, if your sentences are too long or if you just don’t have enough words in your post (plus load more).
Yoast along with the Grammarly browser extension (also free) will have you creating Shakespearean works of art that will appear at the top of search results in no time. 😉
reSmush.it Image Optimizer
There are quite a few image optimizers available that do a pretty good job, but reSmush.it takes the cake for me. It’s free and compresses image sizes greatly without much noticeable quality loss.
I’ve found it to provide similar (sometimes better) results compared to popular paid image optimizers for WordPress.
You can set to how much quality you’d like to retain, which in turn will affect the size of the compressed image files. I stick with the default 92% as I tend to optimize my graphics manually during export or before I upload them using Optimizilla.
In the settings area of reSmush.it, you’ll be able to see how much space you’ve saved, how many files are optimized and you can set the plugin to optimize images automatically upon upload (very convenient).
P.s. Jetpack is another plugin that can compress images and comes standard with your WordPress install. I do NOT recommend it as it tends to over compress images. This resulting in massive quality loss and rather horrible looking images and graphics. It took me a few days to figure out that Jetpack was the reason for this and it drove me insane trying to find the culprit.
The security, optimization & conversion plugins for WordPress that I’m sharing with you here all do a much better job than Jetpack does, without slowing down your site (which is the second reason I removed it from mine).
W3 Total Cache
This is the ultimate optimization app in my opinion. W3 Total Cache allows you to optimize just about everything related to your WordPress website.
This is one of the plugins I have a paid subscription for ($99/year) and it is worth every penny.
There is far too much for me to go into regarding W3 Total Cache features, so I’ll mention two of my favorites and then I’d recommend you have a look through this guide to W3 Total Cache.
The first feature is the fragment cache feature that is possible with a paid account and a Genesis Framework theme (which I am running). This allows you to take full advantage of the optimized design of Genesis Framework WordPress themes.
The second feature is the easy setup of a CDN to speed up your website distribution around the world. I use Amazon CloudFront for this & W3 Total Cache makes it a breeze to set up. If you’re looking to set up a CDN with CloudFront & W3, I recommend watching this YouTube tutorial.
Another optimization plugin. WP-Optimize
is was my cleaning plugin; removing unnecessary revisions, drafts, trash, unapproved comments, etc. It’s capable of more, but I haven’t extended the leash just yet. 😉
…Turns out I hadn’t extended the leash on W3 Total Cache either, so it now takes care of this as well and the fewer plugins you have installed to get the job done properly, the better. 🙂
NOTE: Make sure to read through the user guides for these optimization plugins and try not to have them perform the same task as this could cause conflicts with your website code.
P.s. Like WP-Optimize above, I’ve removed this plugin and just let W3 Total Cache (premium) do its thing. 😉
I’ve included some best practices for installing plugins at the end of the post, I highly recommend going through and sticking to them.
Best Appearance/Sharing Plugins for WordPress
This plugin is great for placing ads throughout your blog. It’s easy to use and you can disable certain ads for particular posts easily.
Additionally, you can insert text, images, and other code in specific places on your posts. Practically, this means you could include a disclaimer (like an affiliate disclaimer) at the top of each of your posts very easily.
This is the plugin I used for the disclaimer on this site for a long time, but I use Genesis Simple Edits for that now (read more about that plugin below).
Genesis Simple Edits
This is a theme-specific plugin, namely, a Genesis framework theme. I
run ran a theme using the Genesis framework because the interface was very user-friendly and the Genesis Framework is a very optimized theme for faster page loading times. I still recommend the Genesis framework, but I wanted a different look that I couldn’t find (or was too lazy to try to implement myself) with the Genesis Framework.
The Genesis Simple Edits plugin allows you to easily edit some features of Genesis framework themes that can be a little bit challenging.
These features are the ability to edit the theme footer, as well as the above content and below content metadata. This is the area where I place my affiliate disclaimer as you can see at the top of this page.
I’m not a fan of the Gutenberg Editor. There are still some kinks that haven’t been worked out and until they’ve completely fixed, I won’t be using the Gutenberg Editor on my sites.
I recommend the Classic Editor as it’s a very easy to use editor, much like a word processing editor and it’ll be a breath of fresh air for those that were using WordPress pre-Gutenberg. 😉
Fancier Author Box
This one’s rather self-explanatory don’t you think. 😉
The Fancier Author Box plugin gives you the ability to add an author box to the bottom of your posts with an image, short bio & the author’s latest posts. And everything is completely customizable of course.
P.s. The User Profile Picture plugin is useful for uploading an author image if you do not want to use Gravatar.
Social Warfare (Pro)
Ah, social sharing buttons.
Social Warfare is the social sharing plugin
I am currently using; however, I do plan on switching over to Social Pug (now Grow by Mediavine) in the near future and comparing the two plugins (as I have another blog where I will continue using Social Warfare for the time being).
The positives of Social Warfare (and Grow by Mediavine, formerly Social Pug) is that with the paid plan (Which I am currently on = $29/year) you can include custom descriptions for when readers pin your posts to Pinterest. You can also add a specific pin to be saved when someone clicks on the Pinterest share button.
The negatives, and why I can’t fully recommend Social Warfare Pro is the updates. I have two issues with the updates.
The first being, that there always seemed to be an issue when the plugin receives an update, which has been known to cause issues with users’ websites. I personally had an issue with this once as well, but I was able to restore a backup and reinstall the fixed plugin.
The second issue I have with the updates is that the company seems to be going backward. In mid-2018 the plugin had more features, but now it just seems to be getting left behind by Grow.
If you are already using Social Warfare Pro and you’re looking to migrate, Grow has a migration tool that will allow you to bring all of your Pinterest descriptions, etc. with you. Saving you the hassle of dealing with retyping and those pesky updates.
Once I’ve switched on this site,
I’ll let you know my experience below… So I made the switch, & I highly recommend Social Pug (or Grow by Mediavine as it is now known).
Grow By Mediavine (Formely Social Pug)
This plugin has all the positives of Social Warfare, without the update issues. It actually has a few more benefits over Social Warfare, which is why I am using it on this very site.
Simple Social Icons
Just a couple of simple social icons.
This is actually a quite useful widget plugin that allows you to place social media links all over your site. I’ve got some in the upper header, sidebar & even in my footer. 😊
Best Conversions Plugins for WordPress
Google Analytics by Monster Insights
The best analytics software available for your blog or website is Google’s free analytics tool. Monster Insights gives you the ability to view these analytics in your WordPress dashboard, a rather convenient way to catch a glimpse of how your website traffic is doing and where the clicks are coming from.
To unlock the more detailed Google Analytics data on the Monster Insights plugin, you will be required to purchase a subscription. Instead of doing that, I prefer to just use the free version of the plugin and then every week or two go into depth directly in Google Analytics.
The affiliate marketers’ best friend. That may not be doing Pretty Links justice. This free plugin allows you to shorten and create custom links with your web address as the host URL.
This increases the chances of viewers clicking through to your affiliate links as they will be more likely to trust a URL that they are familiar with. You’re also indicating that the link is something you endorse and not a pop-up or an intrusive advert that they may be apprehensive about.
You may also run into some rather clunky looking affiliate links (or any link really) and instead of having that atrocity on your site, you can pretty it up to whatever you’d like.
And I haven’t even gotten to link management. Pretty links allow you to easily manage your links by grouping them and arranging them in folders.
If you need to update your link, simply head to the plugin and change the target URL to the updated one and all of those existing links will now point to that updated URL (this is great for special offers).
Another paid plugin, sort of. ConvertKit is the email delivery service I use and recommend. They allow you to easily create opt-in forms, welcome sequences, funnels, email broadcasts, etc. All without having to be an email marketing expert.
Unlike most email delivery services, ConvertKit was designed for bloggers, by bloggers. This means they know exactly what we’re looking for in a service provider & they provide it.
I mention this as a paid plugin because even though the plugin is free, you will need to be a ConvertKit user to actually make use of it. As ConvertKit doesn’t have any free plans, I am going to go ahead and classify this as a paid plugin.
Plans start at $29/month for up to 1000 email subscribers, find out more about ConvertKit or start a free 14-day trial using this link.
I’ve put together a detailed guide to creating your first opt-in with ConvertKit, read it here.
Contact Form 7
One of the best contact form plugins for WordPress.
Create contact forms easily and for free.
How easily you ask? This easily.
Find out more about how you can quickly and easily set up a contact form for your WordPress site here.
Q2W3 Fixed Widget
Lastly, we have the Q2W3 Fixed Widget plugin. Some themes allow you to fix widgets in your sidebar, but not all themes have this feature. Which is where this awesome plugin comes in handy.
You can think of fixing a widget to the sidebar as locking it. Even once it’s been scrolled past, the widget will stay visible on the users’ screen. A prime example is the Bluehost hosting image you can see currently on your right (if you’re reading this on a Desktop PC, it’ll be above the footer on mobile).
Top Plugin Tips
1. Hard Refresh + Install one at a time
When installing a new plugin, or multiple plugins, refresh your website using a hard refresh to see any changes that have been implemented.
*Implement a hard refresh on Chrome with Windows by pressing Ctrl + F5, for other browsers & operating systems, have a look at this guide.
This is also useful when editing or changing settings and the appearance of your website as your browser may load the older settings from a saved cache and you may not actually see any of the changes that were made.
For plugins, a hard refresh is particularly useful to see if your plugin is functioning properly.
Plugins are created by 3rd parties, meaning that they could have conflicting code which could cause problems on your website.
Install plugins one at a time & then check to make sure there are no conflicts by executing a hard refresh on your blog. If everything is functioning properly, you can continue, otherwise, go back and uninstall the most recent plugin (or the one causing the conflict).
Contact the plugin developer to debug any problems once you have centralized the problem.
2. Delete Plugins you’re not using
Always delete plugins that you are no longer using, deactivate and delete them. Plugins that are just sitting around in your WordPress dashboard are needlessly taking up space on your website and if you have too many, they can even slow your site down.
3. Keep your Plugins up-to-date
Plugins can provide a backdoor to your website for hackers and other security threats.
Make sure your plugins are all up-to-date and that the developers are still working on them to ensure they’re being looked after against the latest threats.
Wordfence Security has the useful feature of emailing me when a plugin needs to be updated.
Have you tried any of these plugins yet? How about some alternatives you may be using? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
If you have any questions, I’m happy to help.