Millions of businesses rely on WordPress for powering their products. And what powers WordPress? Plugins!
Not all plugins are created equal. While most add a much-needed functionality, there are a few that go beyond the call of duty and transform WordPress from being a humble blogging platform to a business powerhouse.
This post discusses ten of such highly useful, impactful plugins that no business should be without. Do you have all of these installed? If not, you have no idea what you’re missing out on!
SEO is the foundation of every digital business, and no plugin does it better than Yoast SEO.
Once you’ve installed and activated Yoast SEO, you won’t need a pay an SEO consultant (Just kidding! But yes, the plugin will reduce that dependency a lot). Be it XML sitemaps, canonical URLs, meta tag optimizations, per post and page SEO, Yoast SEO does it all in a simple, visual interface.
The plugin is also capable of performing SEO analysis, readability analysis, as well as keyword analysis for your WordPress posts and site.
Although pretty good in its free avatar, Yoast SEO also has a premium version that offers some exciting features like video SEO, image SEO, news SEO, content enhancements (related phrases, relevance check), redirect manager, and a whole lot more.
Everyone agrees that spam is a tough, tough problem to deal with. And if you have a content-driven WordPress blog where anyone is free to comment, you know the pain. Enter Akismet.
As the image suggests, Akismet runs a spam check on every comment that gets posted on your site, and depending on how you’ve configured it, puts it in the moderation folder or removes it permanently. The plugin is free for use (without any limits whatsoever) on your blog and sites, but business users should get a license. It’ll go a long way in supporting the developers and encouraging them to keep doing amazing work in the future.
While we are on the topic of spam, I feel compelled to share an incident. A client of mine came to me with the complaint that GoDaddy had shut down her WordPress hosting as she had exceeded the allotted disk space. According to her, this was impossible, because all she had on the website was a few blog posts and maybe 200 images.
The diagnosis is a long story, but in the end, I discovered that it was her MySQL database that had caused the disk overflow! The reason? Her Akismet settings had suspicious comments put on hold for review; since she had a very successful blog, she gets thousands of comments (spam and non-spam) every week, and over the last 4-5 years, the total number of comments stored in the database was enough to exceed the allotted disk space! Incredible, to say the least. :-O
Anyway, the point is that even if you have the right plugin installed, there’s no substitute for correct settings and monitoring.
An alternative to Akismet, you can take a look at CleanTalk.
W3 Total Cache
The most common complaint among website owners is that they tend to slow down as they get older and more popular. Well, that’s only because there’s a limit to how much data your disk, RAM, and database can serve at a time.
Once the number of simultaneous users starts exceeding the 1000-2000 mark, your website starts choking. Solution? Caching!
Caching is perhaps the best-kept secret in software development. When it comes to the most popular data subset of your website, you precompute and store it in RAM rather than querying the database and performing the calculation on every request. As a result, page load time improves by at least an order of magnitude.
For WordPress, there’s a clear winner when it comes to caching-based optimizations: W3 Total Cache.
W3 Total Cache works with all sorts of deployments: shared hosting, VPS, dedicated servers, cloud hosting, etc. You can read more about the plugin here, or better yet, give it a spin and see the benefits!
A word of caution, though. Since this plugin essentially takes over your entire website to optimize it, chances are it might interfere with some other plugin. I’m not saying that you should avoid W3 Total Cache; quite the opposite. I’m saying that you must have W3 Total Cache, but be prepared to invest some time into reconciling clashes, if there happen to be any.
This is the kind of plugin that saves you several times the hosting cost.
Looking for some alternatives? Try WP Rocket
Smush (Image optimization)
If you think web applications still suck (and so do I, for the record), the reason is bandwidth and latency. In simple terms, connecting to a server takes time (and the farther away it is physically, the more time it takes), and our network connection speeds are low (irrespective of what the ISPs love to claim).
As a result, whatever the server can transfer to you per second (images, HTML, script files, video data, etc.) is limited. Generally, there’s very little we can do about this, but images are one area that gets completely ignored. To get it done automatically, say hello to Smush!
Now first off, why is image optimization that effective?
Even an average smartphone camera today is capable of producing high-resolution images that have file size running into a few megabytes. Maybe you don’t realize this, but if you have a high-end phone, it’s creating files of 20+ MB every time you hit the virtual shutter. And when you (or worse, your customers) upload a photo to your website, you do so directly from the phone or computer, causing the huge file to be uploaded.
Now, when it comes to the Web, such large sizes in images are completely unnecessary. The web works on pretty low-quality overall (unless you have a very high pixel density device like the latest iPad), and on almost all devices the human eye can’t tell the difference between average quality and ultra-high quality of images. Plus, larger files take forever to upload, and can even break due to size and time limits enforced by servers.
In other words, you owe it to everyone (your business, your users, your hosting provider, the environment) to use an image optimizer that resizes images and makes them much smaller in size as they are uploaded. Yes, you can use your favorite photo editor to reduce the image size, but Smush is so much more convenient.
a3 Lazy Load
Oh, boy, another jargon is thrown at us! Let’s deal with this quickly before we move ahead. 🙂
Lazy loading is a very simple idea in computer science; it’s just that it sounds fancy. It merely means that we reach for things when we need them, and not all at once.
An excellent example images on a web page (did you realize this is the third plugin on this list that targets images?!) — if a page is long (or has a gallery or slider with scores of images), then loading all of the images as the page loads will be a disaster.
The solution is obvious — we load stuff only when we need to. In other words, we don’t load a section’s images and other files until the user has scrolled to it. It’s a typical pattern among e-commerce platforms, where you see the “infinite scroll” behavior. Usually, this takes considerable developer finesse to pull off, but thankfully for WordPress, there’s a plugin already!
a3 Lazy Load is excellent not just for images, but videos and other content formats as well. The best part is that you can even customize what gets loaded when.
The plugin works with AMP pages, and even the animations it shows are customizable as well. A rare plugin, in my opinion, that deserves a try.
If you wonder why your favorite content websites like Netflix, YouTube, etc., always seem to deliver content lightning fast (think of how fast your Facebook feed scrolls even though data is being supplied to it from all over the globe), the secret lies in CDNs.
A Content Delivery Network, or CDN, is a global network of computers that serve content to your users (on your behalf) based on the minimum possible geographic distance. Remember how earlier in this article we discussed latency between two servers?
Well, with a CDN, the goal is to get the user the content (and even the necessary images, CSS files, etc.) from a server as close to them as possible. The CDN caches the data and responses you would ideally send from your server, and can quickly improve page load time from 3-4 seconds to less than half a second.
One of the best CDNs available around is what was earlier famous by the name of MaxCDN, but now is part of StackPath.
Now, StackPath isn’t a plugin exactly, but more of a configuration needed at your DNS level, so setting it up isn’t exactly like setting any other plugin. That said, it’s pretty straightforward, involves a bit of tweaking W3 Total Cache (yes, the plugin we discussed before!), and I highly encourage you to try it before you run screaming for a developer! 🙂
Here are the instructions for getting started. Thank me later. 😀
PHP in general and WordPress, in particular, have a bad rep for security.
Now while PHP has kind of cast off the old baggage and keeps getting better with each new release in the 7.x series, WordPress is stuck with the design choices the developers made in the early days. Another factor is WordPress’s popularity — since it powers the majority of the Web, WordPress’s insides are very well known to attackers, and it’s not safe to rely just on the defaults.
Generally, securing a website is the stuff of nightmares, but Wordfence offers a beautiful solution.
I don’t have stats to prove my claim, but I’d say Wordfence takes care of around 95% of the security loopholes commonly found among web apps. In its free version, Wordfence can make a few changes to make your WordPress installation less predictable and more secure (changing the default login URL, blocking malicious traffic, for example), but the real deal is the premium version that doubles up as a real-time firewall and malware scanner.
It’s a plugin that has over 2 million active installs as of writing and keeps getting better and better.
Another brilliant solution to secure and speed up your site would be SUCURI.
Broken link checker
The name of this plugin is enough to make eyes pop.
Broken links . . . Who thinks about broken links?! And yet, content that gets old, besides losing its relevance, suffers the most when readers click on broken links — nothing says “close the tab now!” better and louder than this. It usually would be soul-killing to have to go through each link, but thankfully, you don’t have to!
Broken Link Checker does what it says, and then some. It’s capable of detecting not just broken links, but also missing images and redirects that don’t work anymore. While it does present a nice reporting interface, you can configure it to notify you via email too, so that you can take quick action.
And, if you are looking for more SEO features, then you can give a try SEMrush.
If your business relies on email marketing (or you want to start doing it), MailChimp’s WordPress plugin can’t be recommended enough.
Countless businesses rely on MailChimp to run opt-ins, email campaigns, and transactional emails.
You’ll need a MailChimp account for sure, and I strongly recommend you go for a plugin like Thrive Leads so that you can create beautiful forms and manage campaigns, all inside the WordPress interface.
Honestly, MailChimp is the clear favorite when it comes to WordPress email campaigns, with no close second in sight. And don’t worry if you’re using other plugins like Contact Us forms, because MailChimp works with everything seamlessly!
Just like WordPress can astonish someone by getting a website up and running in under 10 minutes, WooCommerce does the same for e-commerce businesses that wish to use WordPress.
Within seconds of installing WooCommerce, your store is ready, and all you need to do is add content and images.
Now, I know there are plenty of such get-started-quickly plugins out there, but don’t take WooCommerce lightly. It’s a whole universe in itself, and you’ll find plenty of books on customizing WooCommerce, developing for WooCommerce, as well as a plethora of plugins and themes dedicated to WooCommerce.
In case you need to extend your store, finding developers is easy, and if you’re a developer, finding help is easy as there’s a warm and welcoming community. Finally, get ready for this one — WooCommerce is developed and maintained by the same company that develops WordPress! Yes, it’s Automattic.
And, if you need an all-in-one solution to open an online store then check out BigCommerce.
Before I close this post, let me say that this list is not complete or the best by any means. These are plugins that are incredibly popular, and I’ve found them useful, besides recommending to clients all the time. Your needs and list might be different, but there’s no way you can go wrong by picking these.
Did I leave your favorite plugin out? Please feel free to indicate so in the comments, and I’ll be happy to discuss! 🙂