10 essential WordPress plugins for your blog

Separating the plugin wheat from the chaff is a considerable challenge - but we've put together some of the best to save you the trouble...

essential wordpress plugins

It’s no secret that WordPress offers oodles of out-of-the-box functionality for website builders. But if you want to add a few bells and whistles to your blog, you’ll have to dip into the bottomless pit otherwise known as WordPress plugins.

Okay, so it isn’t quite bottomless, but it’s still mind-boggling how many free plugins in there are; more than 50,000 at the last count.

Imagine walking into a car showroom and seeing 50,000 cars parked in front of you? What’s more, they’re all free. Good luck working out which one best suits your needs.

Luckily you don’t have to choose just one plugin, but given there are a number that do the same job, how do you decide which ones to try out?

There are many plugins that every website should have, but some are vital. Here are the top ten essential WordPress plugins you should check out to ensure your blog is the best it can be.

1. OptinMonster

If you want to grow your audience, OptinMonster enables your site visitors to leave their details if they like what they see.

OptinMonster allows you customise opt-in forms with an easy drag-and-drop builder. Choose from floating and scrolling boxes, and sidebar forms. You can also create pop-up forms to instantly capture visitors before they leave. Pop-ups can be configured to occur at any time, but OptinMonster does a particularly good job with its exit-intent technology, which has the highest rate of conversion.

You can also test your forms with OptinMonster’s unique A/B testing feature and measure the results with its built-in analytics. OptinMonster is mobile-responsive and has a unique animation capability based in its MonsterEffects technology, which is another nice feature to have.

2. Akismet

If you allow comments on your site, it’s inevitable that you’re going to receive spam. Akismet is a web-based service that checks your comments and filters out the spammy ones. All comments have a status history so you can find which ones were filtered out. You can also see the number of approved comments, approve comments considered spam, find associated URLs and which URLs were suspicious.

Akismet is free for personal use and supports 50,000 comment checks per month. Commercial businesses must pay a monthly subscription. A premium plan is available that provides extra security in addition to spam protection.

3. Jetpack

Jetpack offers a collection of features that helps with site security, image optimisation, traffic growth, site performance, content tools and appearance.

Jetpack shares your published content with search engines so your traffic can grow and creates sitemaps so they can index your site too. It also checks your site every five minutes and alerts you if any issues are found.

Additional options are social sharing, spam protection and a mobile theme designed for phones and tablets.

READ MORE: 8 of the best WordPress social media plug-ins

4. All in One SEO Pack

An All in One SEO Pack is one of the most popular plugins out there, with over 1 million installs to help optimise your site for SEO. Beginners can use it right away, but more advanced users will like it too because of the added features such as an API code.

All in One SEO allows you to submit your XML sitemap to search engines to improve your SEO, offers support for mobile pages (Google AMP) and analytics, automatic redirects, advanced canonical URLs, built-in API so your other plugins can work together, integration with ecommerce sites, and security protocol.

Of course, All in One SEO also takes care of your SEO. You can optimise your titles, meta descriptions and tags, set keywords and adjust readability.

The feature manager allows you to choose only the features you want to use, which makes it easy for beginners to get started.

5. Envira Gallery

Envira Gallery is a mobile-responsive, powerful plugin that makes it easy for you to create beautiful galleries of all your images. Envira has a drag-and-drop builder and pre-built templates for extensive customisation, and it easily integrates with your ecommerce plugins and social media sites.

You can also embed videos into your gallery. All your images are password protected and SEO friendly. You can even add watermarks for extra security.

6. Soliloquy

Soliloquy is a super easy-to-use, lightweight plugin for creating slider images in minutes. It has a drag-and-drop builder and pre-built templates so you can create customised, beautiful images within a full screen lightbox that enables a slideshow to catch your visitor’s attention.

An interactive product slider allows you to display your products through its integration with Woo Commerce, or you can make dynamic sliders drawn from your featured blog posts and social media. It has over 100 configurable hooks and filters for complete customisation.

Soliloquy is optimised for SEO and is also mobile-responsive so your visitors have multiple control options of how they want to scroll through your images.

7. WP Forms

Whether you’re new to blogging or not, WP Forms is the absolute easiest way to create simple forms for your site. It has a drag-and-drop builder and form templates for customisation and alerts you when someone has submitted a form. Publish forms on any page or post or in a widget easily with a short code.

This plugin is mobile responsive and comes with spam protection. It also helps with collecting donations and payments for online orders. WP Forms offers many add-ons with the premium version, which allows you to place forms on multiple pages, plus integrate with over 500 other plugins and web apps.

READ MORE: 11 of the best social media calendars

8. W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache’s main purpose is to increase page load times and overall site performance. Both make for a better experience for your visitor, while also improving your search engine rankings. It’s especially helpful for mobile sites (AMP) and those using SSL.

W3 Total Cache also helps your web server performance when traffic is heavy. If you have a large website, that’s an important feature.

Other features include browser caching for quicker repeat page views, optimised progressive rendering, up to 80 per cent bandwidth savings through minification and HTTP compression of a variety of script feeds such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript. It also provides caching statistics so you can track your site’s performance.

This plugin works great without any advanced settings, but if you know how to configure them you will see a big impact on your site’s load times, as much as a 10-fold improvement.

9. BackupBuddy

Your website is always at the mercy of the internet, which is why you need to regularly back it up. BackupBuddy is one of the most popular plugins for WordPress, especially by developers, and for good reason. It’s easy to get started, highly reliable and comes with time-saving features so you don’t have to do any configuring.

You can do a partial backup or a full backup with any of BackupBuddy’s 1GB of cloud storage with multiple services like Dropbox and Amazon S3, and you can exclude any files you don’t want. BackupBuddy makes it easy to migrate your site from one server to another.

10. Wordfence

Wordfence is a powerful plugin that handily protects your site from hackers. It’s easy to set up and has a long list of features.

Wordfence works by scanning for unauthorised file changes, malware and malicious networks. It also blocks illicit IP addresses and attackers in real time with its web application firewall and sends you an alert when attacks are caught. A Live Traffic feature shows your traffic and any hack attempts in real time.

Free and premium versions are available. The premium version offers country blocking, scheduled scans, password auditing, real-time updates, two-factor authentication and the ability to check if your IP address is being used to spam others.

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