What is a plugin?
Plugins are code that can be added to a WordPress website to extend or expand the functionality of WordPress. Plugins then offer custom functions and features so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs. This keeps the WordPress core more optimized and as lightweight as possible.
The WordPress plugins that every website should be using
There are thousands of WordPress plugins available. Much like themes for WordPress, plugins can either be free or premium.
The first place to look for plugins is the official WordPress Plugin Directory which is the largest source for free WordPress plugins.
All plugins in the WordPress Plugin Repository pass a review process to guarantee code quality, however, it is still worth taking the time to look through the plugin’s reviews and support forums before deciding to use one.
Below we have put together a list of the best plugins that every WordPress website should be using.
Google Analytics by MonsterInsights (Free)
Every website should be using Google Analytics to track their website traffic and there are several plugins available to do this. Google Analytics by MonsterInsights is by far the best. It allows you to add your Google Analytics tracking code to your website and goes a step further by offering some handy options to customize how the data is tracked.
The plugin was originally created by SEO guru Yoast before being taken over by MonsterInsights so you know it’s developed and maintained by a reputable team.
Yoast SEO (Free)
There’s no getting away from the fact that search engine optimization is important for a website’s success. If you want to generate traffic for your website you need your pages to be working for you rather than against you in terms of Search Engine Optimization.
There are several great free search engine optimization plugins for WordPress, but with more than 1,000,000 active installs Yoast SEO is the one trusted by most.
Yoast SEO makes on-page SEO beginner friendly and has enough options to tweak your website’s SEO to what you want if you want to delve deeper.
Yoast SEO also has a number of premium extensions to make the plugin even more powerful.
WPForms (Free/Premium upgrade)
WPForms allows you to quickly and easily create forms using an intuitive drag and drop interface. The Lite version will allow you to create contact and website registration forms. With optional upgrades you can go even further and make newsletter signups and even payment forms.
Popup Domination ($54/year)
Every online business should have a mailing list as an integral part of their marketing strategy. There are a few mailing list services available (MailChimp and Aweber being two of the most popular choices) which can be easily integrated into your WordPress website with the awesome Popup Domination plugin.
Popup Domination includes beautiful templates to help you convert your website visitors into subscriptions and sales
W3 Total Cache (Free)
W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your website by increasing server performance, reducing the download times and providing content delivery network integration.
It’s a plugin recommended by web hosts and used by some impressive names like AT&T, mashable.com and css-tricks.com.
Visual Composer ($34)
Visual Composer is a drag and drop page builder that is used to creating unique page layouts. There is a small learning curve as you get used to the interface and array of options, but once you’ve mastered it you are only limited by your imagination.
Since it’s release Visual Composer has been a phenomenon and has revolutionized the Premium WordPress theme marketplace. The plugin has sold more than 150,000 licenses (continuing at an impressive pace) and is regularly updated with new features.
When it comes to WordPress eCommerce there is one plugin that dominates, WooCommerce. With some work, you can turn just about any WordPress site into an online store using WooCommerce, or you can select a WooCommerce compatible theme to be up and running in no time. No other plugin comes close to the features and array of extensions that are available for WooCommerce making it one of the largest eCommerce platforms today.
Regenerate Thumbnails (Free)
When changing themes or activating new plugins in WordPress it’s sometimes necessary to regenerate your websites images. Not doing this can result in the wrong size image’s being displayed which can lead to broken layouts and increased load times.
Regenerate Thumbnails is a simple plugin that allows you to regenerate all your site’s images in bulk or individually, and delete any images at sizes that are no longer needed.
WP Smush (Free)
Images are often the biggest contributor to slow page load times. WP Smush will optimize your website’s images without affecting their quality. Smaller image sizes will improve your site’s performance and boost Search Engine Optimization.
WordPress’ popularity has seen it become a truly international success powering websites from all around the world and in many languages. For some sites it’s necessary to display content to multiple audiences in different regions and languages.
With WPML (WordPress Multilingual Plugin) you can create and manage translations of your entire site from the same dashboard. There is a learning curve because WPML can do so much, but once you get to grips with the basic plugin configuring and creating translations of each page and post it’s relatively simple. As this is a premium plugin support is also top notch.
How do I install plugins?
Installing a WordPress plugin works in a similar way as installing themes. Begin by going to Plugins > Add New in the admin dashboard.
From the Add Plugins screen you can search through the thousands of plugins in the WordPress Plugin Repository using the search box and popular tags cloud.
Once you have found a plugin to use just click the “Install Now” button. After a few seconds you will see the plugin installation status page and a message telling you the installation was successful.
To activate the new plugin click on the “Activate Plugin” link below the installation success message.
You can see a list of all installed plugins by going to Plugins > Installed Plugins.