WordPress is a popular content management system for a reason – it’s free and easy to use. Even those with little to no technical expertise can use it to update their websites or even create one from scratch.
But if you want to take your website to the next level, you need to install WordPress plugins. They provide advanced functionality that can make your website more versatile. Many are free, and most are very budget-friendly.
Unfortunately, without trial and error, it can be difficult to determine which WordPress plugins best suit your needs. For most categories, a simple search will bring up multiple options.
Below, you’ll find my guide to the best WordPress plugins based on my hands-on experience. I use each of these plugins on almost every website I work on. They have proven to be reliable, updated regularly, and powerful – and they can help you build a better website.
Gravity Forms allows you to quickly and conveniently build and design your own advanced forms. Using a straightforward editor, you can choose fields, configure options, and embed forms.
In addition to standard field types, such as text and dropdowns, the forms can capture more specific types of data: email inputs, website URLs, and file uploads. This additional functionality enables you to create a wide variety of forms, from contact and order forms to contest entries.
There’s no shortage of WordPress plugins claiming to assist with search engine optimization, but Yoast is among the best. It provides a simple way to add META tags to your blog posts and pages, and before publishing, you can see a snippet preview of how your site will appear in searches.
But its most powerful feature is the analysis function. By adding a focus keyword, Yoast can give you feedback on how often it was found in key areas, such as the article heading, page title, URL, and description. It will also count how often it appears in the content. Then it will offer suggestions on ways that you can improve your content for SEO. If you’ve followed enough of its suggestions, you’ll see a “green light” next to the post in your dashboard. If not, you’ll see a yellow or red one, making it easy to pinpoint posts or pages that could use improvement.
You also have the option of adding on premium modules such as SEO for local searches and video.
The key to building a good website is tracking your results. This plugin makes it easy to track visitor activity without leaving WordPress by providing Google Analytics data in a dashboard. You’ll gain access to how many visitors it receives, where they are from, how they interact with pages on your site, and more, and you can also track 404 page errors, outbound clicks, and downloads.
Like their SEO WordPress plugin, you also have the ability to upgrade to their premium version, which enables more customized reporting such as tracking page views per author or post type.
The downside of WordPress’s popularity is that it is also a popular CMS target for hackers. This security plugin protects your site from attack using anti-virus and firewall tools, including a firewall incorporating machine learning and attack recovery.
Don’t think you need protection? You may want to visit their website to see just how often sites are being attacked. Their visualization shows only 1% of the attacks that Wordfence is currently countering, but you may be surprised by how often that is.
This is another plugin that offers additional functionality if you purchase the paid version, such as advanced comment spam filter and country blocking, but most sites will be served well by the free version.
This WordPress plugin generates static html files from your site, which your webserver then uses rather than processing the heavier, costlier WordPress PHP scripts. By using this plugin, you can significantly speed up your site’s loading speed and decrease its drain on server resources.
It’s an incredibly useful tool if your site is struggling to handle its number of daily visitors.
With WP Smush, you can compress JPEG, GIF, and PNG images up to 1MB in size individually or in bulk. The WordPress plugin strips unnecessary information away in order to reduce your images’ file sizes without sacrificing quality.
Why would you want to do that? Because after compressing images, your site will load faster, and this can help with user experience as well as result in a higher rank on search engines.
You’ve spent a lot of time and resources developing your website, but are you taking steps to protect that data? The peace of mind this WordPress plugin buys is well worth it.
BackupBuddy lets you back up and store your site on your hard drive as well as a variety of different sources, including email, Rackspace Cloud, FTP, and Dropbox. You can choose where you want your backups to be stored and schedule automatic backups on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. That means you can just set it and forget it – but you still have the option to manually run a backup, which is always a good practice before updating your WordPress version or adding new plugins.
You can also use this plugin to move a WordPress website, which is a useful feature, and it offers a free malware scan, helping to keep your online reputation clean.
Cost: $80+/year for two websites
This WordPress plugin is ideal for content-heavy websites, particularly those using large amounts of video or running complex applications. Your content won’t be stored on just a single server – instead copies are stored on a network of servers around the world. Then, when a visitor wants to access that data, their computer will retrieve it from the closest server.
This plugin can make a huge difference for user experience – much faster download and connect times. There are no minimum usage requirements, and it is pay-as-you-go. So it’s an easy, cost-effective way for businesses and web application developers to distribute content with low latency and high data transfer speeds.
Cost: Varies based on use.
Websites can change drastically from their initial design, and often those changes result in broken links, which can cost you visitors and hurt your search engine optimization. This plugin allows you to add 301, 302, and 307 redirections. And it monitors all 404 errors, allowing you to quickly map those to 301 redirects. Another useful feature: if you move pages, posts, and blogs to a new website, or change the category of a page or post, it will automatically add a 301 redirection to lead your visitors to the right place.
Without this plugin, you’d need knowledge of Apache .htaccess files to make these changes. Instead, after installation, you can do it with a few clicks.
Having trouble maintaining your social media presence? Then it’s time to check out Buffer, an app which lets you schedule social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and, most recently, Pinterest.
The WP to Buffer plugin can take that one step further by sending your WordPress posts to your Buffer account, so they are automatically published to your social media accounts. It can be a big time saver for your business, helping you get more exposure for your blog content and also enabling you to provide fresh social content regularly. You can choose the format for posts – including site name, post title, excerpt, categories, date, URL, or author.
What’s your experience with these WordPress plugins? Did I leave your favorite off my list? I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments.