Time after time now you might have heard that WordPress proudly powers 27% of all websites on the internet. It’s a hugely impressive stat. Just as impressive is the fact that the WordPress repository has over 50,000 plugins that aim to provide extra features and help your business website stand out from the crowd with zero or little knowledge of website coding required.
But with 50,000 plugins, comes a lot of time spent installing, trying and testing various options to find a solution for what you need, whether it be the ability to add contact forms, create a portfolio gallery or add a section to register with your mailing list.
From the past six years of using WordPress many of our clients and even our own website, we’ve tried and tested tonnes of the openly available WordPress plugins and our experienced development team have created our own plugins where required. Here’s a breakdown from my experience of the plugins that, dependent on your sector, could be essential in helping you take your business to the next level via the web.
Many plugins available operate on the ‘freemium’ model. In essence, you get a chunk of features to use when you download a plugin, but the best features are reserved for paying customers. This cost typically comes in the form an annual license fee, but some plugins do offer a one-off payment to permanently unlock all the features. I’ve highlighted these in my post.
These links are not endorsements and I, the author, nor Tad Web Solutions gain any financial or otherwise benefits from these links. They are simply shared from my experience of finding them useful and problem solving, I hope they can do the same for you.
Features For Your Website
Without knowing the sector of your business, there could be hundreds of plugin to recommend, so this section will be fairly generic.
Contact Form (CF7) is a plugin that allows you to create contact, enquiry and (very basic) booking forms with no real code knowledge. Create some fields that you want visitors fill out, specify who to email this info to and you’ll be given a single line of code to copy and paste into your website – hit publish and form shall present itself on your website page!
Whilst many WordPress these come bundles with their own slideshow or slider plugin, I have always found myself using either Revolution Slider (A.K.A. RevSlider) or Meta Slider. Revolution Slider is a premium option, where Meta Slider is free but with more options available via a premium version. Both allow you to create beautiful looking image carousels for your website.
A word of warning is that an old (late-2014) version of Revolution Slider was susceptible to hacking. Whilst this issue has been fixed for a long time, old themes are still out there for download that could come packaged with this vulnerable version. When installing the plugin, look for the ‘Version’ under the ‘Plugins’ list in WordPress – if it’s below 4.2, do not use it.
If you use Mailchimp for your email marketing, then you’ll love Mailchimp for WordPress! You can install it and quickly setup a subscription form to include in your website and build your newsletter list.
- Contact Form 7 (free)
- Meta Slider (free, with premium options)
- Revolution Slider (above version 4.2, premium)
- Mailchimp for WordPress (free)
Get Found Online
In my eyes, there’s only one go-to plugin for optimising your website to be found through search engines (known as Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO). WordPress SEO (A.K.A. Yoast SEO) is a plugin with free and premium options.
The free version allows you to completely optimise your website and will preview how your website will look in search engine results. It also provides pointers on what to change within your page text to optimise it for results. The premium version allows you to optimise your website and pages against multiple keywords and aims to help you be found for a wider range of search phrases.
There are also plugins such as All In One SEO Pack that can assist you with search engine optimisation, but I have never had reason to stray away from Yoast.
Whilst on the topic of optimisation, there’s nothing more annoying that clicking a link from a search engine and being shown a website page that says ‘This page has been move or can’t be found!), known as a 404 error. The WordPress plugin called Redirection allows you to specify any old links that you change on your website, enter the new link and the plugin does the rest. As soon as anyone visits your old link, they’re automatically redirected to the new one!
To provide your website visitors with the best possible experience, your website needs to be fast and responsive to clicks. You might find that your website speed is restricted by constraints set by your website hosting provider, in which case you would need to talk with them and upgrade your hosting package (this would come at a cost). But before you fork out on additional hosting costs, here are some plugins you can try.
‘Caching’ is a method of speeding up your website by saving a snapshot of your website from a certain time. Rather than dynamically loading all of your content, images and features for every visitor (which takes time), a coaching system provides visitors with a recent snapshot of your website that still has all of the features available. The only real downfall for using a caching plugin is that you can risk website visitors missing your most recent changes and update content, but the caching plugins below (WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache) are clever enough to know not to show a cached file when you’ve updated your website.
WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache are fairly similar in terms of how quickly they can help your website’s loading speed and both have a wide range of options you can play with (I’d recommend against it). Take a look at each plugin and see which you find to be the most user friendly.
WP-Optimize is a database optimisation plugin. Every time you change your website text in WordPress, the default setting for WordPress is to save a ‘revision’ in your database. In turn, this means that when someone visits your website, WordPress scrambles through the database to find the most recent version of your page. With more revisions, this can get slow. WP-Optimize deletes these old revisions and minimises the data kept in your database. Less data to search through = faster loading.
WP Smush is an image compression plugin. Each time you upload a photo, WordPress will ‘Smush’ it to reduce file size without compromising on image quality. Smaller files load quicker, need I say more?
With Google Chrome beginning to mark any website without ‘SSL’ as ‘Not Secure’ (what does this mean?), you might find yourself purchasing an SSL Certificate or having your web team acquire one for free via Lets Encrypt! As well as the certificate, you’ll need to setup your website with ‘HTTPS’. There’s a plugin out there to help you with this bit, but it might still need some work. Ask your web designers about Really Simple SSL.
- WP Super Cache (free)
- W3 Total Cache (free)
- WP-Optimize (free)
- WP Smush (free, with a premium option for better image compression)
- Really Simple SSL (free, with premium options)
There’s more information on optimising your WordPress website in my post ‘WordPress: Why should I use it?‘.
It should go without saying that your website needs some form of security. I go into greater detail on WordPress security in my post ‘What is Web Security? How You Can Secure Your Website‘.
The ‘Jack of All Trades’
There is a WordPress plugin that offers a huge chunk of the features outlined above, bundled into a single solution. It’s even developed by the team who created WordPress.
The plugin is called JetPack and has a huge range of features. The long-standing issue is that website owners have had issues in the past when using JetPack alongside other plugins due to ‘conflicts’ between features – this can happen between any two plugins, though. If you really don’t want to go through setting up multiple plugins and optimising your website then you may want to try JetPack and see if it can help your website.
Before installing and activating any new plugin, it’s advised that you make a copy of your website (the worst case scenario is a plugin breaks your website entirely, which whilst rare, can and has happened). The quickest way to do this is to ask your web design team to carry this out for you. Once your website is live and finished, WordPress essentially comes in two parts – the WordPress files (how your website works) and the WordPress database (storage for the content and information for your website), always request a full back up of both.