What are WordPress Plugins?
WordPress plugins are pieces of code designed to extend the functionality of the WordPress platform. There are many plugins on the market, both paid and free, and here I’ll discuss what I consider to be some of the best free plugins.
As a word of caution I should point out that when adding code to your website, you’re potentially also adding a security risk. You’re relying on the developer not only to produce robust code that does not leave your site vulnerable to unwanted access, but also not to include malicious code.
Due to the added risk of working with third party software, I only use free plugins available from the WordPress Plugin Directory. Whether you do the same is your call.
Perhaps the first thing you should do when you set up your website is to secure it from unwanted attacks. As code is evolving all the time, no-one can guarantee your site will never be hacked. If someone’s determined to get in, they will. But if they’re only going after low hanging fruit, you can make sure it’s not you.
There are a number of security plugins available and it might be a wise move to install two or three. Here are two that I believe are particularly good.
BulletProof Security. A fast and simple plugin offering extensive security features at a the click of a mouse.
WordPress Firewall 2. Nobody wants there website hacked and this plugin monitors web requests and blocks the most obvious attacks.
We spend a lot of time working on our sites and the last thing we need is someone coming along and leaving unwanted comments in the hope that they’ll get a cheap backlink. Fortunately, there are plugins that can help prevent this.
Si Captcha Anti-Spam. WordPress comes with Akismet, an anti spam plugin, preinstalled. While the plugin is free, there’s a monthly usage fee, currently $5, for commercial sites. As such, this fails to meet the free criteria of this list. Instead I recommend Si Captcha Anti-Spam. By requiring a captcha code to be entered prior to commenting, this plugin eliminates spam from automated bots.
Sometimes we don’t realise how important something is until it’s not there. Here’s a couple of plugins addressing key areas that we probably rarely think about.
W3 Total Cache. This plugin reduces the time it takes your site to load, thus increasing the user experience.
Custom Contact Forms. You should always give your visitor the opportunity to contact you, and you can do just that with this plugin.
These plugins help to get your website recognised and ranked in the search engines.
Google XML Sitemaps. This makes it easier for search engines to better index your site. The sitemap allows the crawlers to see the structure of your site and the plugin notifies the search engines each time a new post is made. If you install WordPress SEO by Yoast, see below, you won’t need this as the SEO plugin includes a sitemap. However, if your SEO plugin, assuming you install one, doesn’t have a sitemap, this is a good one to install.
Google XML Sitemap for Video. If you’ve embedded YouTube videos on your site, this will help the search engines to recognise them.
WordPress SEO by Yoast. If you want your website to achieve a good search engine ranking, you’ll need to engage in a number of search engine optimization, SEO, activities. This WordPress plugin helps you to produce better content by focusing on on page optimization.
With an ever increasing emphasis being placed on social media, it makes sense to make it easy for visitors to share your content.
Digg Digg. This plugin lets you display a wide selection of social media share icons.
Google Analytics for WordPress. Whatever you do, you should always be testing and tracking your results. There are numerous analytics packages on the market, both paid and free. I use Google analytics. If I’m honest I started using it because it’s free, but I continue to use it because,
- It offers an extensive range of metrics
- I can create goals, thus measuring what is truly relevant to my business
- There’s a vast amount of free and quality training available
Over To You: Do you use plugins on your site? What plugins can you recommend to others?