So you’ve set up a new blog with WordPress. Congratulations! Now you’re ready to start adding plugins! Wait, what?
Yes, setting up a new blog with WordPress is just the start. Now the fun begins: writing and publishing posts, customizing how your blog looks, and adding tools – aka plugins – to help you with blog comments, social sharing, analytics, security and other things that come with running a website.
The great thing about WordPress is that there are plugins for everything. Want to create a contact form to your blog? Add Pinterest sharing icons to your images? Or even auto-tweet your posts? You can do all these things with plugins to help grow your blog’s audience.
There are literally thousands of WordPress plugins online, including 50,000+ in the WordPress.org Theme Directory and thousands more premium options at CodeCanyon. But when you’re starting out it’s hard to know which plugins are worth using because let’s face it, there are some fantastic ones out there with millions of users and then there are ones that are okay – they work, but they’re not the best.
More: check out these free WordPress blog themes.
So in this article, I’m going to walk you through the plugins I consider the cream of the crop and essential for WordPress blogs. I’ve used hundreds of WordPress plugins over the past 10 years while developing websites, and these are the ones I install on client sites and personally use on my own sites.
TL;DR: Here are all the plugins mentioned below for you to download:
- Editorial Calendar
- Edit Flow
- Good Writer Checkify
- Visual Composer
- Slider Revolution
- Contact Form 7
- Gravity Forms
- iThemes Security
- Yoast SEO
- Google XML Sitemaps
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP)
- WP Power Stats
- Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights
- Title Experiments Free
- Smush Image Compression and Optimization
- WP Rocket
- Simple Share Buttons Adder
- Easy Social Share Buttons for WordPress
- Social Warfare
- Instagram Theatre
If you’re new to blogging you might be wondering…
What is a WordPress plugin?
A plugin is piece of software, kinda like an app. When you install a plugin on your WordPress blog, it adds new features and functionality to your site. For example, if your blog is getting a lot of spammy comments, you might want to consider adding the Akismet anti-spam plugin to your site.
The great thing about plugins is that they make is easy for anyone, even beginners, to add features to a website without knowing how to code.
It’s important to know that there are free plugins and premium plugins. The WordPress.org Theme Directory I mentioned above makes plugins available for free. Developers all over the world can submit plugins to the directory, which anyone can download. You don’t need to sign up, just browse the directory, find what you want, and download it. Alternatively, many developers sell their plugins at CodeCanyon, a marketplace for premium plugins. Unlike free themes, when you pay for a plugin, it usually comes with support, updates for coming versions, and compatibility with the latest versions of WordPress as well as other themes and plugins. Paying for a plugin gives you peace of mind that if anything goes wrong, you can get in touch with the developer and they’ll help you out. With free plugins, there are no guarantees.
Okay, so now you’re familiar with what plugins are, let’s look at the essential plugins for bloggers new to WordPress.
Plugins for managing blog posts
Anyone can blog, but if you want to do it well, grow your site and build an avid readership, you need to be organized and publish consistently, i.e. stick to a schedule. And the best way to stay organized is with an editorial calendar. The aptly named Editorial Calendar plugin is a fantastic free option that lets you drag and drop posts into a calendar so you can schedule them, make quick edits, keep track of drafts, and get a visual of when you’re publishing and whether you need to schedule more content.
Edit Flow is another great free editorial calendar plugin. It also comes with a calendar, with the addition of editorial comments for discussion between writers and editors. Unlike Editorial Calendar, Edit Flow allows you to see the different stages of post development, i.e. in draft, pending, published.
For bigger blogs, you can’t go past CoSchedule. It’s a fully-featured marketing calendar that enables you to schedule social posts in tandem with your posts. It also includes analytics and “super-smart” time scheduling. CoSchedule isn’t free – you’re looking at $30 a month – so this is probably an option you’ll want to consider when your blog has grown enough that you need better automation and help with stats.
One other plugin I’ll add in here is Good Writer Checkify. No, it’s not a calendar, but it does help organize posts. When you activate the plugin, it adds a checklist in the Post Editor to help you remember everything you need to do before publishing a post. For example, I like to remind myself to create an optimized title, create a meta description and keywords for SEO, and also attach a feature image before I schedule a post. Good Writer Checkify forces me to pause for a second and consider whether my post is ready for publication.
Plugins for customizing your site
Making site customizations can be time consuming, especially if you don’t know how to code. Luckily, there’s a plugin for that! Visual Composer is a fantastic plugin that enables you to build any page quickly and easy using a drag-and-drop. It takes a little while to get used to the interface, but once you do it’s much easier than making changes to your site manually.
For sliders, my go-to plugin is Slider Revolution. This plugin has been around for a few years now and is great for sliders as well as carousel, hero images for the top of your pages, and you can even create whole pages. Like Visual Composer, it also features an intuitive drag-and-drop editor. While you can make some great simple sliders, this plugin comes with some impressive transitions and animations so you’re not restricted to just the basics.
Contact forms plugins
Every blog needs a contact form. After all, how else would your readers get in touch with you! When you’re starting out, Contact Form 7 is a great free option. It lets you insert a form anywhere on your site with a shortcode.
When you’re ready to upgrade from Contact Form 7,Gravity Forms is my go-to and one of the most popular forms plugins for WordPress. It features a simple drag-and-drop interface to help build contact forms, as well as quizzes, surveys and any kind of form you can imagine. I’ve been using this plugin for years and can’t imagine using another plugin for the forms on my site.
There’s a reason why Akismet comes pre-installed with every version of WordPress. It’s the go-to plugin for WordPress comments and contact form spam, fighting an average of about 7.5 million pieces of spam per hour – that’s about twice as many people who live in Los Angeles every hour. Developed by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, it uses a web service powered by cloud servers to evaluate spam. Akismet should be already installed on your site, you just need to go to your Plugins page to activate it. Once activated, you’ll then need to register for an Akismet account and get an API key in order to use it. While the basic version of Akismet is free, you can upgrade to a premium account for more support and backups.
Personally, I prefer Anti-Spam another free plugin that blocks spam in comments automatically, invisibly for users and for admins. This plugin because just works. You don’t need to configure settings because there are none, and it doesn’t use captcha. Do watch the captcha video on the WordPress.org page. Hilarious!
The problem with website security is that so many people don’t recognize its importance until after their site has been hacked. If only they had installed a security plugin beforehand! With more than 2 million active installs, you can’t go wrong with WordFence. It features a web application firewall and a “Threat Defense Feed” that automatically updates firewall rules that protect you from the latest threats. There are also a bunch of blocking features and you can run security scans on your site, as well as see your traffic in real-time.
Alternatively, another popular plugin is iThemes Security, which includes more than 30 site protection features, including two-factor authentication and user action logging. Other features include sync integration and brute force protection.
If you’re looking for a super easy plugin to get started with security, you might want to try Defender. It’s a relatively new plugin to the WordPress Plugin Directory but already has 10,000 active installs. My favorite Defender feature is the ability to limit login attempts to stop hackers and bots trying to guess your password. You can also permanently ban IP addresses from your site or trigger a timed lockout after a set number of failed login attempts. The plugin can also send you email alerts when it locks a user from accessing your site, which I find so satisfying. There’s nothing like knowing your site is working in the background to keep out the baddies.
If you want readers to discover your posts via search engines like Google, you’ll need to install an SEO plugin on your site. The industry standard when it comes to WordPress SEO is Yoast SEO. Not only is it easy to install, but it features a user-friendly traffic light system for creating content. What I love about this plugin is that it displays tools while you’re writing posts that guide you to help you make good word choices so you can get the maximum leverage from keywords and create content that is optimized for Google.
While Yoast SEO can generate a sitemap for you (a file that Google reads so it can interpret and index your site), the Google XML Sitemaps plugin is easier to use. Once you activate the plugin, you can quickly copy the URL the plugin creates for your sitemap and then paste it into Google Webmaster Tools. Too easy. Plus, it’s used on more than 2 million websites so it’s trusted by the masses.
Like any good blogger, you’ll want to sign up for Google Analytics so you can keep track of your visitors and gain insights into how well your blog posts are performing. While the Google Analytics site is great, it can be pretty darn overwhelming! So to make it easier for users new to WordPress, I recommend using Jetpack. It features Site Stats, which lets you quickly get a visual of your site’s daily traffic. For users who want more of an overview of their traffic, Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP) provides real-time reports, including the number of visitors your getting and where they’re coming from. There’s also WP Power Stats, which I’d highly recommend for it’s awesome-looking dashboard and stats.
Another great plugin is Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights. It is really easy to install and set up, and if you’re not sure how to add Google Analytics code to your site this plugin can do it for you. It features a good-looking dashboard so you can see your stats and site performance.
Now, if you’re interested in testing the titles of your posts, Title Experiments Free is a great plugin to help you do just that. It’s easy to install and lets you test one title against another to see which version does better with your readers.
Performance plugins can help keep your site running fast so it not only works great for your readers, but boosts your SEO, which is great for pulling in more readers from Google. One of my go-to plugins is Smush Image Compression and Optimization. When you publish images on your site, if you don’t compress and resize them properly your site will run really slow. This awesome plugin can bulk compress and resize your images for you.
When you write and save a lot of posts, your site’s database can get clogged with lots of unnecessary tables. WP-Optimize can help keep your blog running smoothly by optimizing your database tables, removing old post revisions, and cleaning up unapproved comments and things you’ve trashed.
WP Rocket is an easy to use caching plugin that, once enabled, will save a version of your site in your reader’s browser so the next time they visit your site it doesn’t have to load from scratch again. This means your blog will load faster for reader.
When it comes to social media plugins for WordPress, there are so many it gives me a headache! I’ve tried out a lot of social plugins and there are a few standouts worth activating and giving a try on your blog.
If you simply want to add social sharing buttons to your site, the aptly Simple Share Buttons Adder and Easy Social Share Buttons for WordPress let you add share buttons to your posts and pages for all the usual social networks. I like that you can upload your own custom buttons to match your blog’s theme.
When you’re ready to step your social sharing up a notch, Social Warfare also lets you had customizable social sharing buttons to your WordPress blog. Another feature I really like is that you can create in-post tweetable quotes that make it easy for readers to share excerpts from your blog posts. Social Warfare also provides comprehensive stats and add tracking to every shared link so you can see how your social shares are performing – easily this plugin’s best feature.
If you want to share your Instagram photos on your blog, the best plugin I’ve come across to help you do this is Instagram Theatre. It pulls photos from your Instagram account and lets you display them using different layouts, including grid, list, and fullscreen.
And this is just the start!
The plugins I’ve mentioned in this post offer just a taste of what you can do to extend your WordPress blog and make it better and better. As your blog grows, you’ll want to explore
but starting with the basics here will get you off to a solid start, ensuring your site isn’t just (editorially) organized, but also performs well, is secure, and makes it easy for your audience to share your content on social networks.
Now that you’ve got the basics, check out CodeCanyon for more advanced plugins.
Good luck growing your audience, and happy blogging!