Tips & Tricks: Top 5 must-have WordPress plugins

Welcome to my first post offering Tips & Tricks for anyone looking for help with their WordPress website. For the last 7 years I’ve been developing and creating websites using WordPress as a content management system, and to date I have built more than 40 sites on that platform for individuals, organizations, and companies. Currently, I also run half-a-dozen of my own WordPress websites, so I feel that I can safely call myself a WordPress expert, especially with the use and installation of plugins.

Overall, I have a stable of about a dozen plugins that I use on a number of the websites I work on because they accomplish a number of things for day-to-day needs, although it always depends on the specific site needs.

For my first Tips & Tricks, I thought I’d keep it simple and offer up my list of five favorite plugins that are useful for almost any website, plus a few extra suggestions. These plugins tend to be very stable, are frequently updated, and offer some of the most requested tools that people want from their new website. Best of all, they’re all free, but you can also pay for pro versions of some of them for additional functionality.

Must-Have WordPress Plugins

  1. Jetpack: This is almost a no-brainer. Jetpack was developed for users and offers a suite of features that are must-haves. Best of all, the plugin is powered from the cloud, so most of the work is handled from Jetpack’s servers, not yours. So what do you get for free? A stunning image carousel effect for your photo galleries, advanced commenting features, a mobile theme, social media sharing buttons, statistics, subscription options for readers, uptime monitoring, and a lot, lot more. This is a must-have for anyone with a website, and I generally use at least 5-10 of the features.
  2. Akismet [Paid options available]: For anti-spam protection, Akismet is a fantastic tool that protects your site from spammers, and for personal websites, the service is optionally free. For companies, or anyone looking to get better service in the form of support and faster spam checking, you can choose to pay $5 a month. Either way, this plugin is simple and easy to install, and invaluable when you start seeing hundreds of spam comments a day.
  3. WordPress SEO [Premium for $89]: Building a website for your company is a great first step, but it’s fairly meaningless if no one visits it, and that’s where WordPress SEO from Yoast comes in. The plugin has a lot of features, and it can take some time to setup properly, but it provides basic search engine optimization for your entire site, and helps make sure that Google and other search engines will find your latest posts and pages. Setting this plugin up may require the help of a professional, or at least someone who is willing to do some trial and error work, but there’s no point in creating your website if you’re not going to do a little work to make it more visible to potential clients or other people looking for information that you’re posting on your site.
  4. W3 Total Cache: For anyone running a website that seems just a little slow, W3 Total Cache offers tools that can speed things up, without doing much work on your part. After installing the plugin, you choose which features you want to turn on, and you should notice an almost instantaneous speed boost when browsing the site. This plugin has some features which are incredibly complicated, and anyone who doesn’t know a lot about WordPress or website development may feel a bit lost, but if you read up on using each option, you should be okay with activating most of the features. When in doubt though, getting a pro to help with this plugin is wise, and you should only need their help once to set it up.
  5. WPtouch Mobile Plugin [Premium for $49]: Although Jetpack offers a basic mobile theme option, WPtouch Mobile is a much better solution for making your website mobile-friendly if your WordPress theme is not responsive. Setup is fairly simple, and only requires a few minutes of work to get up and running. The free version of the plugin also offers enough features for most websites, but the pro version is only $49, so it’s worth considering if you need a few extra features or help troubleshooting plugin installation.

Other Useful Plugins

  • MailPoet [Premium for $99]: Formerly known as Wysija, this plugin offers an easy-to-use email newsletter system that can be setup to automatically mail new posts to subscribers, or send out batch emails on a set schedule. As one of the few plugins to offer this in an easy-to-use plugin, MailPoet is an incredibly valuable tool for anyone looking to grow a subscriber base, and the newsletter templates can be customized to a basic degree with a WYSIWYG editor. Keep in mind that the plugin does not offer advanced customization of the newsletter theme, so you are stuck with a one-column design whether you buy the pro version or not.
  • The Events Calendar [Pro for $65]: If your site needs an event calendar, this one does it all, and in a very attractive package. There are some drawbacks to using the free plugin, but for most websites, you can easily get by using it to provide a community calendar. One of the few drawbacks, at the time of writing this post, is that the plugin is not very mobile friendly, and it can be hard to customize the layout and design, but it’s still an incredible plugin.
  • Gravity Forms [Only available paid for $39]: If your site needs custom or special forms, look no further than Gravity Forms for the mere price of just $39. Whatever you need your forms to do, Gravity can handle it, although some functionality may require additional paid add-ons. Out of the box though it supports multi-page forms, advanced fields, entry management options, and can be used for order forms as well. Available add-ons allow the plugin to work with Freshbooks, PayPal, and can also function for polls, quizzes,  and user registration.

Need help? Contact me for help with your website. I offer affordable rates by the hour, or as part of a package, depending on what you need.

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