Install WordPress and you get only the basic features needed to create a blog or website and no more. Plugins extend the features and capabilities and they are what makes WordPress websites so exciting and useful.
Plugins are essential items that you must add to your WordPress website whether you are building a site for fun or for commercial reasons. Every website that is making money on the internet will have a bunch of plugins, so it is important that you know how to find them, how to install them and how to activate them.
But which ones should you choose? There are hundreds and possibly thousands of plugins, and it is all very confusing at first.
Everyone has their favourite plugins and different people recommend different ones. The list here is my personal choice, but I think they are both useful and essential.
This is not a complete list of plugins that you should install into your site and some people have 50 or more!
There are potential problems with having a large number of plugins and they can slow down your website. If your site is very slow then people might choose to leave before the page they are visiting has loaded.
Plugins require processing power and memory, so keep them to a minimum to ensure your site is as responsive as possible.
Another problem with plugins is that they have bugs and security flaws. The more plugins that are installed in WordPress, the more bugs and security flaws it has.
A hacker might use a plugin to gain access to your site. A bug might cause the site to display pages incorrectly or not at all.
Keep the number of plugins to the minimum to reduce the risks from bugs, security flaws, and maintain speed.
Some plugins that people have are not necessary. For example, some website owners upload huge images to their site and sooner or later it becomes so slow that it is turning away visitors.
To solve the problem they install a plugin to optimise the images.
You can avoid the problem and the plugin by making sure the images are optimised in a photo editor before they are uploaded. That’s one less plugin that is needed.
In this article I will list the plugins you need and in later articles will show how to use them in more detail. This is a brief introduction and the details come in a later lesson.
How to install a plugin
1 Go to Plugins
Log into your site at yoursite.com/wp-admin, select the Dashboard and click Plugins in the sidebar. All your plugins are listed. Some come bundled with WordPress, so don’t be surprised if you see half a dozen. Most won’t be active and are ignored (for now).
Click Add New.
2 Browse or search
There are links in the toolbar to view Featured plugins, Popular plugins, Recommended ones and Favourites.
If you know the name of the plugin you want, type its name into the search box. For example, enter wp-spamshield.
The search results appear below and there is a More Details button to get more information. If you are sure you want it, click Install Now.
There is an Upload Plugin button at the top. This is for uploading plugins downloaded from websites outside of WordPress.
It is better to download plugins from within WordPress (they come from wordpress.org) because you can see the number of installs (how popular they are), and if you click More Details you can see user ratings and comments.
Avoid plugins with low numbers of installs and low ratings.
3 Activate a plugin
Select Plugins on the left again to see a list of all the plugins installed in WordPress.
Find the plugin you just installed and click the Activate link.
(This is where you delete unwanted plugins too.)
4 View plugin settings
When a plugin is active, there are two links. One goes to the plugin settings and the other allows it to be deactivated. (You must deactivate a plugin before deleting it.
Plugins add menus to the sidebar, but sometimes it is easier to go to Plugins and click the Settings link to get to them.
5 Update plugins
Most plugins are updated from time to time and updates fix bugs and security flaws, and add new features. Keep your plugins up to date.
Select Dashboard on the left and click Updates below.
Select one or more plugins and click the Update button.
Just a word of caution. Updating plugins is recommended and everything works smoothly for almost everyone. However, on rare occasions a plugin update will cause problems.
For this reason it is recommended that you ensure your website is backed up before updating. At the end of this course is a lesson that covers backing up WordPress websites.
Essential plugins to install on day one
This plugin is by the makers of WordPress and it provides a wide range of functions and features. A free version might already be installed into your self-hosted WordPress site, but if not, it can easily be added.
Jetpack provides useful information about the number of visitors to your site and you can see daily, weekly and monthly totals. This is essential for building your site’s audience. It’s not the only way to monitor visitors, but it is still useful.
Visitors can subscribe to your site, there are social media sharing features, control which widgets appear on pages, increase security, add a contact form and many more.
It has a huge range of features, but not all of them have to be used. Individual features can be turned on or off with switches so you can choose which you want.
One way to make money from your website is to display adverts. It is possible to insert adverts into the sidebar or home page of a site using widgets and this is useful, but Ad Inserter goes further.
Ad Inserter can perform some clever tricks, such as inserting an advert a certain number of paragraphs down from the top or up from the bottom. It can display ads at the top or the bottom of articles, in the sidebar,
Using whitelists and blacklists, it can display or hide adverts depending on the category and this enables you to show adverts on specific pages or to hide them.
It can insert any code into any page at any position and you can create 16 items. It can be used with Google AdSense, other ad code, or you can even insert your own code.
A later lesson looks exclusively at this plugin.
Yoast or All in One SEO
These two plugins are essential for ensuring that your website gets noticed. They do this by enabling you to add page titles, descriptions and keywords. These help search engines like Google and Bing to understand your web pages.
There is a lot of overlap between the two plugins and they are very similar, but not quite the same. Yoast does more hand-holding and it shows the readability of your posts, checking the length of sentences and paragraphs and other factors.
All in One SEO helps by inserting Google Analytics code into each web page so that you can track visitors, and allowing you to link other social accounts.
My own preference is for All in One SEO and I’ll cover it in more detail in a later lesson.
Captcha by BestWebSoft
This puts a captcha on forms, such as the login form, registration form, contact form, comments form and other forms. Wherever there is a form, you can place a captcha that asks a simple maths question to prove that you are a real person.
Captcha stops bots (automated programs) from logging into your site, registering, sending comments and so on.
Cookie Consent by Catapult_Themes
The laws in some parts of the world require that a message is displayed to new visitors warning them that cookies are stored by the website. The Cookie Consent plugin displays that message. There are alternatives, but this one works fine.
Hackers and bots (automated programs) look for websites with poor security and try to gain access. WordFence Security is a plugin that protects your website from them.
There are other security plugins, but this is one of the best and it has been installed over one million times.
It is complicated, but you can ignore the details and just install it and enable it. It works pretty much without having to configure anything and it emails you security reports.
You must protect your website and this is an essential plugin.
There are many more plugins you could add to your site and there are some fantastic ones. They are useful, but not essential in the way that WordFence Security is for example.
Other plugins will be looked at in later lessons, but these are the ones you should install on day one of your WordPress website.