Complete Guide to WordPress Plugin and Widget Installation

When it comes to WordPress sites, there are a number of different reasons why plugins may be used. At the time of writing this post, WordPress has at least 35,000 plugins on its repository. However, as a WordPress user, you will never have a need for all of these different plugins, and you definitely shouldn’t have to go through them all to figure out which are the best ones. That’s why we’ve put together this guide.

Why WordPress Plugins?

WordPress is a reasonably powerful and pretty easy to use Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is designed in order to act as a platform for every different type of website, rather than just specific types. Because of this, its approach has to be quite generalist.

When you set up a WordPress site, it’s likely that you’re going to want to do a couple of things with it. Many WordPress users have never written any code before, and even if we assume that you know how to code and add functions to your WordPress database, it could still be quite the hassle – which is why plugins were created.

Although plugins cannot be tailor made to any specific kind of website, there are a number of different plugins which are able to cater to specific functions, proving useful to all WordPress websites regardless of the website industry or even the type of website. Additionally, there are also a range of niche specific plugins to choose from.

In this article, we’re going to introduce and explain a number of plugins that we think the majority of WordPress sites can’t do without.

Which Functions Should Plugins Cater To?

Although there are a number of different plugins catering for a wide variety of functions, there are some specific functions which every WordPress site should have a plugin to cater for. These functions are:

  • Security
  • Running Site Backups
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Social Sharing
  • Site Caching
  • Contact Forms
  • Handling Spam Comments

This article is going to explore the best few plugins for each of these categories.

Security Plugins

Wordfence

When it comes to keeping your site secure, it’s safe to say that Wordfence is an efficient website guard dog. It comes with scheduled scanning options, security measures for login, and a firewall to ensure that your site is protected. The system is cloud powered, and it works by scanning your website and its files for any changes, including malicious scripts and viruses, which are then compared with the regularly updated repositories of themes and plugins that are stored on their servers.

Wordfence can also help to protect your site from Google’s blacklist (GSB), by scanning your entire website for links that you may have included which are part of the blacklist and could cause your site to end up on it.

The Wordfence plugin comes with a basic options panel that is easy to use and also features an advanced options panel which can be used for fine tuning plugin performance. The plugin will inform you promptly if anybody is trying to access your site whilst unauthorised through e-mail updates. The firewall allows you to throttle site requests should something seem suspicious.

Along with Wordfence, there are a number of other great security plugins that may be worth checking out.

IThemes Security

IThemes Security – formerly known as Better WP Security – provides you with over thirty different ways to protect and secure your WordPress site. Each day, an average of 30,000 websites are hacked into, and although many WordPress site owners aren’t aware of their vulnerability, iThemes Security works to fix common holes, prevent any automated attacks and strengthen user credentials through password minimum requirements and login blocking.

IThemes Security is a great choice of security plugin for any WordPress site, regardless of whether the user is a complete novice or has more advanced WordPress experience. This is thanks to the fact that the majority of the features offered by the plugin offer simple and easy one-click activation along with a range of advanced features for more experienced users.

This plugin is ideal for a social site with user logins, as it features password expiration which makes users choose a new password after a specific amount of time. You can also track your users, and have your site automatically scanned for malware each day with email updates if any changes are detected. If you manage more than one site, iThemes Sync makes protecting all of your sites easy.

All in One WP Security & Firewall

The All in One WP Security & Firewall plugin is designed to take your site’s security to the next level. Designed and written by security experts, it’s also easy to use and understand making it ideal for any WordPress user no matter the level of experience.

The plugin uses a unique grading system for security points in order to measure how well you are currently protecting your site based on the security features of the plugin which you have already activated. This feature makes it easy and understandable to determine how safe your site is and what needs to be done in order to increase security.

The plugin offers a range of security features, including User Accounts Security where you can detect if you have any user accounts with identical login names and also generate strong passwords. The User Login Security feature protects against ‘brute force login’ with the Login Lockdown feature, which locks users with a certain IP address or range out of the system for a predetermined length of time and also notifies you by email.

The plugin also offers File System Security, which identifies files and folders with unsecure settings in order for you to make the necessary changes to secure them. You can also easily view and monitor all of your host system logs from a single menu page and receive updates of any problems or issues that occur on your server in order for you to address them as quickly as possible.

WordPress Backups

Website backups are crucial, as you never know when something may go wrong and cause your site to reset or your files to be lost. If your site ever goes down, it’s important that you are able to get it back up and running as soon as possible, especially if it is generating revenue, as every second that your site remains offline you will be losing money. Thankfully, there are a number of great backup plugins which will allow you to get your site back online in no time.

UpdraftPlus

UpdraftPlus is a free plugin which enables you to back up your uploads, themes, plugins and any other site content. The free version permits backup to only one location, however if you’d like to back up your files to more than one location, the premium version will allow you to do this and is competitively priced at just $20. It also allows you to run a WP database backup alternate to your regular backup, and recovering files in the majority of cases from both backups tends to be a simple and seamless experience. You can choose from a number of different locations in order to store your backup, including Google Drive, DropBox, Amazon S3 and email.

Search Engine Optimization

As a huge chuck of any website’s traffic tends to be received from search engines such as Google, it’s crucial to ensure that the search engines are on your side. Poor SEO can cause your site and traffic numbers to suffer, and although there are a number of SEO techniques that you can implement yourself, a few simple tricks from installing an SEO plugin can help your site to creep further up the rankings.

WordPress SEO

One of the best plugins to choose from when it comes to SEO, WordPress SEO by Yoast helps with a number of different seemingly small yet very important factors.

This plugin helps to ensure that meta data, titles, breadcrumbs, permalinks, social accounts, RSS feed, taxonomies, homepage, and archives are all in correct order. It also allows you to create a XML sitemap, which is effectively a blueprint for your website, and made available for a search engine crawler to pick up. WordPress SEO also helps to prevent your site from getting into any issues with content duplication from within the site.

Prior to publication, WordPress SEO can also calculate the search engine optimisation of any post that you publish on your website. The plugin helps by showing a snippet preview of how your post is likely to turn up on a search.

As SEO is not the same for all sites and the process can be altered for different sites such as e-commerce sites and sites which use geolocation for targeting customers, Yoast offers a number of premium services which cater to each of these different sites needs as well.

Social Media Sharing

It’s good to have readable content on your site, but even better to get the word out and share your content further in order for more people to be exposed to it and your site. With Social Media Sharing plugins, your readers are able to share your content to their social media pages for their friends and followers to see, resulting in you gaining a larger online presence.

In our opinion, the prime focus of a social media sharing plugin should be its accessibility. When sharing content online, users want to go through a process that is easy as possible – in short, social media sharing plugins should allow users to do so with just a couple of clicks.

Secondly, you should also look for a social media sharing plugin which has buttons that do not clutter, take over or overcrowd your website as this is more likely to put users off.

Simple Share Buttons Adder

As the name might suggest, Simple Share Buttons Adder is a plugin that is easy to view and use. It’s also highly effective, and can be displayed on any page or post including categories, archives, excerpts, and your site’s home page.

Simple Share Buttons Adder is also a plugin that’s easy to customise, giving users the option of placing the buttons above or below content. They can also be added to sidebars and footers along with a text widget and shortcodes that are provided by the plugin.

Along with Simple Share Buttons Adder, there are some other social media sharing plugins that are worthy of a mention.

Social Media Feather

Social Media Feather is a social media sharing plugin that is super lightweight, simple to set up and use, modern looking and effective. The plugin supports adding of social media buttons for both sharing your content and following your site’s social media pages. It is easy to add the social media buttons to your posts, pages and any other custom post types on your WordPress site.

Social Media Feather also prides itself on now being the only social media sharing plugin that has full support for the retina and high resolution displays that are used with devices such as the iPad 5, meaning that you can be sure your social sharing buttons will look great on any device when using this plugin.

The primary goal behind Social Media Feather is to provide a social media sharing plugin that is very lightweight and does not add any unnecessary burden to your WordPress site or your users. In order to achieve this level of higher performance, the plugin does not make any use of JavaScript – meaning that as a result, it is faster than most others whilst still providing all of the social media functionality that your WordPress site needs along with high quality professional social media icons.

Social Sharing by Danny

Social Sharing by Danny is a social media sharing plugin that has been designed to add very simple and easy to use sharing buttons to your WordPress site. It provides the simplest sharing links possible for Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, and aims to be different by being both lightweight and flexible.

The buttons are actually text links which require no external scripts, meaning that there is no need to load over fifty kilobytes of different scripts and styles for a functionality that a large proportion of your users are unlikely to use. The plugin is simple yet user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing, and you can have it load two very small files and a pop-up functionality to the social media sharing links. Thanks to this, there is no need for users to leave your site after clicking on a sharing option.

The plugin features simple icon styles with a hover effect, and a shortcode and template function to allow you to display the sharing icons wherever you like on your site, whether it be above or below posts, or in the sidebar or footer. It’s also useful for sites with a worldwide audience, as it’s translation ready for a number of different languages including Spanish, German, Russian, Dutch, French, Danish and more with plans to update further.

Site Caching – WP Performance Optimization

Since WordPress is a very dynamic CMS, each time somebody visits your site, requests are made to a database in which your content is held. Accessing data from a database is quite time consuming and also loads your servers, however both the load time and the server load can be considerably reduced by the use of a caching plugin.

Essentially, the use of a caching plugin will transform your dynamic site into one that is static, which will result in making your site faster. When a caching plugin is added and is fully operational, it can have a significant effect on the performance of your site.

Your site’s performance is essential when it comes to providing a good visitor experience, and slow websites make for awful user experiences – something that could also cause your site to suffer if it is a source of revenue. Additionally, your site’s performance is also a factor that is considered by search algorithms, with speed being rewarded.

WP Super Cache

This is a great plugin for website caching, which caters to the needs of both the tech savvy and also those who aren’t clued up with WordPress or are newcomers. However, even though it’s suitable for WP novices to use, it definitely does not compromise on performance.

WP Super Cache produces super-cached files – served by PHP – which is one of the fasted caching methods out there available to use. Since caching files involves creating a duplicate copy of a file and having too many of these files can produce an opposite effect by slowing down your site, WP Super Cache also regularly deletes any redundant copies of the files on your site, ensuring that performance is kept at peak.

Contact Forms

A website contact form is often the main point of contact between a site admin and the reader, whether they be a customer, a reader with a general enquiry, a potential investor or even a new business partner. Although many web users now use Twitter or other popular social media platforms as a means of getting in touch, the contact form is still an integral part of communication and should definitely not be overlooked. They are especially important for business oriented and revenue generating websites.

Contact Form 7

This plugin provides a simple and effective way to add contact forms to your WordPress site. Contact Form 7 supports CAPTCHA and Akismet spam filtering, to ensure that your mailbox isn’t flooded with spam messages. It is a simple plugin that features not much else, however this is all that you will need in order to get started.

On top of the basic contact form functionality provided by the Contact Form 7 plugin, there is also a file upload option, giving users the ability to attach images, documents, screenshots, translation files and anything else which they may need to send to you.

Spam Handling

Anybody with a WordPress website that allows user comments will agree that they have probably been through hundreds of spam comments before finding one that is meaningful and useful. Since spam is not only a nuisance but also has an effect on the credibility of your site, it is an issue that must be swiftly dealt with.

When it comes to dealing with spam manually, the sheer volume that many sites receive becomes a problem. Most website owners simply do not have the time to go through hundreds or even thousands of spam comments and manually delete each one, which is why spam handling plugins come in handy.

Akismet

Akismet is the unofficial spam defender for all WordPress sites, and was created by Automattic, the team behind the creation of WordPress itself. This is a fantastic plugin which will protect your site from spam for free, unless you are in receipt of more than 50,000 spam comments per month.

To get started, you will need to get an API key from the Akismet site, and then enter this same key into the Akismet plugin. Akismet works by scanning the content of comments on your site, and then filtering comments out. Certain comments which are then detected as definite scam will be subsequently blocked, and all other filtered comments can be approved by the web admin.

Final Thoughts

All of the above mentioned plugins and the different purposes and functions that they serve are, in our opinion, necessary for any WordPress site regardless of the type of site or the industry of the site’s business. If you are setting about in creating your first WordPress site, it’s highly recommended that you get your website off to a good start by using a plugin for each specific function that has been mentioned in this article. You can use the plugins that we’ve mentioned, or search for different alternatives that you may find work better for you – however the plugins that we’ve mentioned here are basically the bare minimum that any WordPress website needs.

Please feel free to leave your opinions and thoughts in the comments below.

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