I attended my first WordCamp this past weekend, which means I was surrounded by all things (and people) WordPress. I decided to take this opportunity to really dig into my WordPress sites and do some much-needed cleanup, site maintenance, and updates.
At one of the sessions, I was chatting with my friend and fellow blogger/WordCamp attendee Sherryl Wilson about the pros and cons of various WordPress plugins. I realized it had been a while since I had scrutinized the plugins installed on my sites. What a perfect place to reevaluate which plugins I truly need, and which ones I can kick to the curb, right?
What are WordPress plugins?
When I first started blogging on WordPress (circa 2009), I knew nothing about plugins. What were they? What did they do? Why would I need them? No clue. Now, I have a much better understanding of what WordPress plugins can do for my blog. Here’s how WordPress defines plugins:
Plugins are ways to extend and add to the functionality that already exists in WordPress.
The core of WordPress is designed to be lean and lightweight, to maximize flexibility and minimize code bloat. Plugins then offer custom functions and features so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs.
Use plugins sparingly
Being an open source platform, WordPress offers more than 46,000 plugins that will do just about anything you can think of. But before you start getting all plugin-happy, determine the bare minimum functionality your blog needs. If you have too many plugins, or even just one plugin that’s outdated or slow to load, your site could suffer. Hackers could take down your blog, search engines could ding you for being too slow, and your readers might just decide to look elsewhere.
Essential functionality for WordPress sites
The key functions I wanted to make sure are covered on my WordPress sites are:
- Automatic backup
- Comment spam
- Search optimization
- Site speed and performance
As I scrutinized each of my sites’ installed plugins, I prioritized which ones to keep and which to deactivate accordingly.
Check your host
About halfway through this process, I stumbled across a fun fact that might save you some time to know if you’re in plugin-pruning mode: Your website host might already be providing some of these services for you. Who knew?
I use the SiteGround GoGeek hosting plan [affiliate link] for this site, which I just learned includes backup, malware monitoring, caching, and CloudFlare CDN. That means I can reduce my plugin usage even further by eliminating plugins that duplicate these functions. Yay!
Essential WordPress plugins
Based on my personal experience and recommendations from WordPress experts I trust, these are my top picks for essential WordPress plugins:
Having automatic backup in place is like insurance for your blog. If anything happens—such as your site being hacked or you get locked out—you can quickly restore the site with the most recent backed-up version. Some of the best-rated backup plugins I found include:
- VaultPress (cloud-based alternative to plugin)
If you allow comments on your blog posts, you will get spam comments. It’s inevitable. But having a good plugin installed will prevent most comment spam, so make sure your blog is protected with one of these plugins:
While the core software of WordPress is considered pretty secure, you still have to worry about things like weak passwords and vulnerable plugins. To keep your blog safe from bad guys, lock it down with a reputable security plugin:
- AMP: Created by Automattic (the company that owns WordPress), this plugin enables Accelerated Mobile Pages on your WordPress site. The AMP project is an open source initiative started by Google to provide mobile optimized content that can load instantly everywhere. (I learned about this plugin during a WordCamp session led by Mike Hale, a developer at Rainmaker Digital. Thanks, Mike!)
- Yoast SEO
- Broken Link Checker: I activate this plugin once a month to check for and fix any broken links on my site. The rest of the time, it’s deactivated, because crawling your entire site for links can really slow down performance.
The speed at which your site loads and displays content can make or break your blog’s success. Readers bail after just a few seconds if they don’t get what they came for. You can deliver faster results with a good caching plugin, which generates static html files from your blog and serve those cached files instead of processing the comparatively heavier (i.e. slower) WordPress PHP scripts.
With each of these aspects in check, either by good plugins or other services, your blog should have the basics covered. Of course, you’ll likely need additional plugins for the features you want to have. But it’s always a good idea to address fundamental needs first.
Do you have any suggestions for essential WordPress plugins? Please share them in the comments.