If you read the other post, “How to Find the Best Plugins for Your Website”, you know nearly 50,000 plugins are available in the WordPress Plugin Directory, and developers create more all the time.
With so many plugins to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start. In this article I’ll go through the MUST HAVE plugins that can’t miss on your website.
These six plugins are excellent choices to install on your site before you start creating content:
- Contact Form 7
- Posts in Sidebar
- Pretty Link
Each plugins performs separate functions, but working with these plugins as a whole will keep your site organized and running smoothly as well as improve your visitor’s experience. More exciting details about these plugins are below.
You can add these plugins at any point in your website building journey, of course. If you’re lucky enough to learn about them ahead of time, it’s best to go ahead and install them all right from the get-go, before you even start to build your big, beautiful dream of a website.
If you’re like me, you’ll struggle along frustrated by your utter incapability to figure out how to do even the smallest task on WordPress until you become desperate enough to fish around on Google for answers. And that’s when you’ll find out about these plugins.
Either way, installing these plugins makes the road ahead heaps easier. They are safe, used on millions of sites, and make adding all sort of interesting whiz-bang features to your site quick, easy and (sometimes) intuitive.
1. Jetpack by WordPress
Jetpack is created by Automattic, the developers behind WordPress itself, so you know it’s the real deal. It’s safe, free, updated often, and comes with great customer support if you need it. Jetpack is so popular that many hosting providers include it pre-installed with WordPress.
You have to create a WordPress.com account to activate Jetpack, but don’t worry. They don’t want anything from you and it’s easy to do during the installation process.
Jetpack offers a ton of features to improve your site’s traffic, SEO, security and content.
The impressive list of Jetpack features includes:
Site Stats: Shows overall traffic for time periods as well as for individual posts and pages. Displays key insights on most popular times, geographic locations and search terms.
Sharing Tools: Integrate your website with your social media sites so your readers can share your content and follow your site and social media accounts easily.
Automatic Publishing: Promote and publicize your content on all your social media sites automatically.
Related Posts: Displays related content at the bottom of a post to keep readers engaged longer.
Site Verification: Verifies your site with Google and Bing to access additional services from them.
Brute Force Attack Protection: Blocks unwanted login attempts from malicious botnets and distributed attacks.
Subscriptions: Make it easy for visitors to sign up to receive your latest content, posts and comments.
Content Embeds: Embed video, audio, documents, and other content from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other sites directly into posts and pages without coding.
Image Tools: Add image galleries, slideshows and carousels to make your site more attractive.
Images CDN: Improves your site speed by delivering your content from high-speed, dedicated data centers.
With more than 30 features available in this single plugin, you are certain to find several you enjoy. And, Jetpack makes it easy to turn off features you don’t want, minimizing the amount of code running on your site. You can pay to upgrade to the personal, premium and professional subscriptions for even more features, better security, and faster customer service.
2. Contact Form 7
If you want people to be able to quickly and easily reach out to you, downloading the free plugin, Contact Form 7, is the way to go. This plugin helps visitors connect with you by allowing them to send an email to you directly from your site through a contact form.
You can create simple contact forms with Contact Form 7 and customize them to your needs. You can create complex contact forms, too.
Take a look at what it’s like to use Contact Form 7:
You see the jumble of slashes and arrows, too, right? I balk at that sort of thing. Even though I know I shouldn’t. Even though I know all I have to do is read maybe three paragraphs of the extensive documentation about Contact Form 7 to learn how to use it correctly. Even though I know there’s a whole community of support for Contact Form 7 to help me, I let a few squiggly lines on a page hold me back.
But, I tolerate that kind of intimidation for only a minute. Then, I spur my (figurative) horse and plunge right in. Reading the documentation always helps, and it often takes only a couple minutes to find the help I need. Contact Form 7 is a good place to learn more about the ways WordPress works.
The plugin creates a shortcode that you then copy into posts or pages where you want the form to appear. If you don’t know what shortcodes are, don’t worry. Shortcodes are your friends. They do all the heavy lifting so all you have to do is copy and paste them where you want the forms to appear.
With over 23 million downloads and a 4.4 out of 5 stars rating, plenty of people have figured out how to use Contact Form 7, and you can, too. If you get stuck, and you’re like me and have tried absolutely everything else, I recommend that you read the documentation on the official site.
3. Posts In Sidebar
People aren’t going to dig around your site for what they want. You have to display relevant, high-quality content prominently. Most WordPress themes allow you to show your latest posts in the sidebar. But the Posts In Sidebar plugin offers much more. It lets you pick and choose which posts are listed in the sidebar, customizing which posts to display by authors, categories, tags, dates, IDs, or meta key/values.
For example, if visitors are reading a post about purple dinosaurs that eat only Volkswagens, you can set up the sidebar to show other posts about purple dinosaurs, or posts about Volkswagens, or posts about dinosaurs in general, or anything you want.
This plugin is powerful and versatile. You can use it to display images as well. You can also use it to display posts and images anywhere you want on your website, not just in the sidebar. So, for example, that waving flag image you’ve always wanted to show in the bottom left hand corner of your site? Or that nifty graphic you’ve dreamt of appearing in your header? Posts in Sidebar can take care of that.
Posts in Sidebar’s many options can feel overwhelming at first, but stick with it. It is worth it to be able to show your site visitors content they find interesting. If your article headlines draw people in, Posts in Sidebar is the key to starting a clicking frenzy where people stay on your site for a long time, hopping from one post to the next.
Posts In Sidebar is free and help installing and using the plugin is available from its developer, Mr. Aldo, here’s the project on GitHub. Plus, Mr. Aldo is super nice and helpful, so consider to donate $1 if you find this plugin useful.
If you want to stay in touch with site visitors, MailPoet is a plugin with heaps of features that make managing communication fast and efficient. You can create beautiful newsletters, design, send and automate emails, get statistics, and manage your subscriber lists through MailPoet.
Some of the features of the free version of MailPoet are:
- Drag and drop newsletter editor
- Drag and drop subscription form designer
- Send latest posts automatically
- Create automated welcome emails
- Schedule emails to send later
- Collect subscribers in two clicks with a signup widget
- Get stats such as opens, clicks and unsubscribes
- Personalize emails using subscriber data.
The option to create automated emails is MailPoet’s shining glory. For example, you can create a “Welcome Email” that is sent to everyone who subscribes to your site’s updates exactly one hour after they sign up. You create this “Welcome Email” only once, and MailPoet sends it to every new subscriber thereafter. You can automate any number of emails and newsletters to be sent automatically at specific intervals in the customer’s journey.
MailPoet offers robust support if you run into any issues. You can access guides and tips and learn how to manage and interact with subscribers. MailPoet offers articles that will teach you how to use its visual editor, use themes to make your newsletters prettier, and address any deliverability issues.
With MailPoet’s free version, you can send newsletters to 2,000 subscribers. Its paid, premium version allows you to send to an unlimited number of subscribers, see more detailed statistics, and improve the deliverability of your emails and newsletters.
5. Pretty Link
If you are using affiliate links on your site, you should use the plugin Pretty Link Lite to make your links more attractive. Affiliate links can be long, off-putting strings of numbers, letters and symbols that appear when users hover over the link.
Instead of showing this:
you can use Pretty Link to shorten it to simply show:
The new link is much prettier. (Hence, the “pretty” in the plugin’s name). Plus, Pretty Link uses your domain name instead of another site’s name, keeping your site clean and professional.
Pretty Link is downright necessary for managing changes to affiliate links. Let’s say you have an affiliate link to a best-selling tablet that looks like this:
Since it’s such a great seller, you put the product’s link all over your site throughout several articles and posts.
Suddenly, Amazon changes the product’s link. Now, it looks like this:
The first link is in so many places on your site that you can’t even remember where they all are located. You’ll have to scan your website, page by page, article by article, searching for the old link to change it to the new one.
But, if you’ve used Pretty Link, you need to edit only once. From the start, Pretty Link makes a “master” link that remains connected to all its corresponding affiliate links throughout a site. For example, Pretty Link will make this affiliate link: http://amzn.to/2noeIlf look like this: letskillthenoise.com/tablet-best-seller
From there, you add the link “letskillthenoise.com/tablet-best-seller” anywhere you want to add the affiliate link in your articles throughout your website. But now when Amazon changes the link, you’re ahead of the game. You can simply edit the initial Pretty Link like this:
letskillthenoise.com/tablet-best-seller = https://whatever-the-new-link-is
It’s a serious time and aggravation saver.
Pretty Link can also help improve your search rankings. Google and other search engines may penalize sites for including too many affiliate links. Manually adding “no follow” to affiliate links discourages search engines from following them. Because of this, search engines don’t learn they are affiliate links, and shouldn’t penalize a site for them. Pretty Link takes the work out of adding “no follow” tags by allowing you to choose to attach a “no follow” tag to all your links.
Pretty Link Pro adds more features such as link tracking with a paid subscription. But the features listed here make it worth your time to install the Pretty Link Lite free version.
Because Google and other search engines favor sites with backlinks, spammers like to create fake accounts on other sites and add links to their sites in the comment sections. It’s like junk mail on the web, only worse because it is more than just a nuisance. The presence of spam on your site hurts your credibility and can negatively affect your search rankings.
Akismet is a plugin that says, “No more!” to spammy behavior. Akismet is free and comes pre-installed with most WordPress accounts. You do have to create a WordPress.com account (or use the one you created for Jetpack) to get the API key needed to activate Akismet, but it is well worth the few extra clicks.
My favorite part about Akismet is how it chugs along quietly in the background while you never even notice. It takes advantage of machine learning to protect your site from the ever-evolving tactics of spammers. It uses information it gathers from all across the internet to identify spam, and its results are impressive. Akismet blocks 7.5 million pieces of spam on the web every hour.
Do you have experience with any of these plugins that you would like to share? Or, do you have questions about these or other plugins? Please feel free to share in the comment section below. That is the real reason for the comment section, and it’s always great to hear and learn from readers.