These WordPress plugins will help you design, optimize, and add functionality to your site.
I included links to helpful tutorials and resources for each plugin. All are free but #4 (Gravity Forms) which is $49 but worth it if you want an advanced contact form. I’ve gone through a lot of plugins through my 5 years of WordPress design, SEO, and blogging, and these are the essential WordPress plugins I use most – hopefully they can help you too. Check them out and leave me a comment below if you have any questions or need help with setting them up.
Here they are…
1. Yoast SEO
Yoast is the most robust SEO Plugin for WordPress. You can break it down into 3 steps – configuring the settings, researching keywords, and optimizing content for green lights. Those links lead to tutorials for each step (leave a comment if you have questions). Yoast constantly updates the plugin so be prepared to update it frequently and learn new features. They also have a plugin for Local SEO, Video SEO, WooCommerce SEO, and Google News.
- Extensive SEO Settings
- Ability to assign focus keywords
- Content optimization checklist
- Social media optimization options
- XML sitemap
- Google Search Console verification
- Other Webmaster Tools verification
- Title tag / meta description structure
- SEO plugin migration options
Use Yoasts’s Google Analytics Plugin to verify the UA code (or just add the tracking code to your footer without a plugin). Google Analytics is a big program and I recommend filtering your IP address so your data doesn’t get polluted when you visit your website (same with employees). I would also download these Google Analytics dashboards to segment data into specific metrics, then use those metrics to make improvements to your website and SEO.
- Use universal or asynchronous tracking
- Demographic and interest reports
- Tracks search results + 404 pages
- See (imited) metrics in WP dashboard
- Link tracking abilities
If your page load time is bad in GTmetrix (look to see if the caching, minify, and gzip item is not 100%), you need to install a speed optimization plugin. Install it then see my best W3 Total Cache settings to configure the performance tabs on the left menu of your dashboard. Improving load times is one of the best things you can do to improve your site’s performance.
- CDN integration
- Cloudflare integration
Not your average contact form plugin. Gravity Forms can create everything from a simple contact form to a pizza ordering menu with conditional logic (certain fields show up if you select a specific option). Think “if this then that.” There’s a lot of form examples on the Gravity Forms website but my favorite is the pizza demo which shows the advanced add-ons.
- $49 – $199
- Highly customizable forms
- Spam protection (captcha)
- Adapts to your font/colors/CSS
- Customizable fonts/colors/CSS
- Optional autoresponders
5. Widget Logic
Free plugin that controls where widgets appear (specific pages, posts, categories, tags, etc). Once installed, go to your widgets and in each one you will see a “widget logic” field. Here you will enter one of the following conditional tags to control where that widget appears.
WordPress is not secure by itself! You need to change the generic Admin username, but I would also install a security plugin – iThemes Security and Wordfence are both very good.
- 30+ features to defend website
- Brute force protection
- Password reinforcement
- Hide login and admin
- File change detection
- Lock out bad users
- Database backups
- 404 detection
- Email notifications
One thing many people forget on their blog is to show the face of the person writing articles. This plugin adds an author profile box below each post. I used this before I switched to the Genesis Framework and now I use the Genesis eNews Extended Plugin instead, which is the first sidebar widget you see on the top right of this article. It combines a newsletter box with an HTML space where I added my photo/bio, but the eNews Extended Plugin is only for Genesis Themes only. Regardless of which theme you’re using, show your face on your blog!
- $49 – $199
- High customizable forms
- Spam protection (captcha)
- Adapts to your font/colors
- Customizable fonts/colors
If you changed your permalink structure, individual permalinks, or a website migration caused your permalinks to change, you need to setup 301 redirects to direct visitors (and search engines) from the old URLs to the new URLs. Install this free plugin then go to “quick redirects” where you can add old URLs and new URLs. The plugin will create the redirects. You can find many broken pages in the crawl section of Google Search Console – do this!
This free plugin detects broken links so you can view and correct them. It is blocked by some hosting companies like WP Engine but I’ve never had trouble with it (though I delete it once I’m done using it). Install it, scan for broken links, correct them, then delete this plugin.
If you’re on a cheap shared hosting plan, chances they won’t take automatic backups – I would check with your hosting to find out. If they don’t, you can use this free plugin to schedule an automatic backup to be taken once a month, once a week, or whatever you choose. Please don’t be the person who lost their website because they didn’t have a backup.
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- WordPress Speed Optimization Plugins
- WordPress SEO Plugins
- How To Find WordPress Plugins Slowing Down Your Site
- 25+ SEO Friendly WordPress Themes For Everyone
Hope you found my list of essential WordPress plugins helpful in designing/optimizing your WordPress site! Have questions? Leave a comment. Enjoyed my article? Please share it.