I have set up several installations of WordPress over the last 8 years. In this #BlogTips post, I am going to share with you my top 8 WordPress plug-ins – the ones that I would upload straight away to any fresh installation of WordPress.
One of the great things about using self-hosted WordPress as your blogging platform is the huge choice of plug-ins that you can use to customise your WordPress blog. Unfortunately, one of the problems with self-hosted WordPress is the huge choice of plug-ins – it can be hard to know which ones to install!
Disclaimer: This post was updated on 28th January 2016, and as of today’s date all of these WordPress plugins will run successfully on a WordPress 4.4.1 installation. I can offer no guarantee that these plugins will run with the version of WordPress installed on your blog. You should take care to make sure that there are no incompatibilities with any other plugins you may install.
WordPress comes with the Akismet spam filter plug-in installed automatically. You will need to sign up on the Akismet website if you want to complete the activation process.
These are the other WordPress plug-ins that I would install straight away on a site – all of them are free:
It’s really important to back up your WordPress database regularly – that way if your site gets hacked or there is a problem with your hosting, you have a backup to restore your blog from. Of course, you can do manual backups if you prefer, but I just know that I would forget to do it the one time I really needed to have access to a backup!
I’ve recently changed the backup plugin I included in this list, as I experienced some problems with the previous plugin and it was taking a long time to do the backup jobs. I would now use BackWPup, and back it up to Dropbox. Obviously for this you will need a Dropbox account – the basic account is free of charge. You can set it to backup as often as you wish, and you can set the back up to start at a time when you don’t have much traffic to the site.
This only backs up your database files, it doesn’t back up your themes, plugins or any media that you upload to your site. A paid for service like VaultPress will back up your entire blog if you wish.
This WordPress plugin is definitely useful for those of us who are combining blogging with a full time job, studying, or family life.
I find this plugin really helps me to get organised with my blog posts. I can plan posts ahead of time, and see where there are dates that I still need to write for. I also love the fact that I can easily drag posts around if I want to change the publishing date. There is also a space where you can store unscheduled drafts. I find this very handy for when I have an idea for a blog post, but don’t know exactly when I want to publish it.
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GTmetrix for WordPress
Something that can really put people off a website is slow page loading speed. If your blog takes too long to load, people may click before they even get chance to read a single word. GTmetrix is a great WordPress plugin for checking how long your website takes to load, and what is causing any delays. You get a report which tells you any potential problems on your blog, and gives suggestions on how to improve it. You do need to sign up for an account on the GTmetrix website, but this is free of charge.
I really find this useful when I’m developing a WordPress blog. I can check the page loading speed as I add functionality to the website or make changes to the layout, and it show me if a new widget or function on the blog is slowing it down. I then check the blog regularly to make sure that nothing has changed – you can set these checks to run automatically.
This plug-in hasn’t been updated for quite a while, but it still works fine with WordPress – you can read more in the GTMetrix WordPress Optimization guide.
W3 Total Cache
One of the issues which is often flagged up by GTmetrix is that the blog could be made faster by using caching. This is where a copy of a page is stored in the reader’s browser, so that only new data has to be downloaded. It can make a real difference to the time it takes for pages to be downloaded, and may stop people clicking away from your site.
W3 Total Cache is a good plugin for caching – it’s easy to set up and improves page loading times. It’s not a really exciting WordPress plugin, but it works reliably and well.
GA Google Analytics
If you are writing a blog, you are probably interested in how many people are visiting your blog and how they found you. So you are probably using some form of webstats service – I’ve tried a few over the years, but I’m happy sticking with Google Analytics at the moment. It works well for me, is free of charge, and gives me (most of!) the information that I could want.
This little plugin is a simple way to add your Google Analytics tracking code onto your WordPress installation. There are manual ways to do it, but I find it easiest just to add this WordPress plugin, paste in my tracking code, and away we go.
Contact Form 7
It still amazes me that WordPress doesn’t have a Contact Me form built in as standard. It’s really important that your readers are able to contact you, so you will probably want to add a contact form to your WordPress blog.
I am still looking for my perfect Contact form, but this WordPress plugin does a pretty good job. You can customise the form to make it look the way you want, and then simply add a shortcode to whichever page you want to display it on.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
The Yoast WordPress plugin is great for helping you to improve your posts’ SEO. By choosing a keyword to focus on, you can easily see how to improve the SEO of your post through the plugin’s suggestions. It will analyse your post, and check for simple things like whether the images on your page have ALT tags which mention your keyword. Yes, you could do all of this without a plugin, but it’s so easy to just click on the link and immediately see where your post could be improved.
The plugin also helps you to amend your site’s meta description, generates XML sitemaps and integrates with your social media networks.