Speed is critical for the success of any blog, and it is one of the reasons why I like to choose the plugins I use on my WordPress blog very carefully.
There are no hangers-on, and I love plugins that have more than one purpose, preferably more than one.
When you first start your WordPress blog, it is tempting to get a bit plugin a happy.
Remember though, that the more plugins you install, the slower your blog will become, which is why, when I find a plugin that fulfils more than one function, I am delighted!
For example, the Site Origin Widget bundle, includes loads of great things, including a contact form, so you don’t need a separate contact form plugin. At the same time, if you ever need anything like a slider, or an icon, or a post carousel, again you don’t need to install anything else, because it is all included in the bundle. I have more about that later.
Before you install a plugin, there are are a few considerations to make first:
- Check the last time it was updated, is it recent?
- Does it have a good star rating or excellent reviews?
- Does it have any known security flaws?
- Is it well supported?
Decent support is a bonus, but don’t expect too much if the plugin is free.
Some of the plugins I talk about below are free, and some have premium upgrades.
- Akismet spam protection
- Social Pug social sharing
- Yoast SEO
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
- Page Builder by SiteOrigin
- SiteOrigin Widget Bundle
- No follow for External link
- WordPress Editorial Calendar
- TAO Schedule Update
- Smush Image Compression and Optimisation
- Easy Affiliate Links
- Regenerate Thumbnails
- WP Supercache
- Wrapping up
Essential WordPress Blog Plugins
Not sure how to install a plugin? See my guide to installing a WordPress plugin.
Akismet Spam Protection
There are two ways that spammers can worm their way in, and that is through the comment form, and through any contact forms you have on your site.
You might be thinking, that you could disable comments and therefore spam is no longer a problem. However, it is so easy to solve the problem, that it is a shame to let reader engagement suffer by turning off them off.
When you activate the Akismet plugin, it will begin its job of sifting through every comment as it comes into your site and silently discarding the worst offenders.
Akismet is so good at picking up spam; it rarely needs manual intervention. If you find that spam is slipping through you could try reducing the number of allowed links in a comment by heading over to Settings->Discussion and modifying the Comment Moderation options.
One of my reasons for loving the Site Origin Widget bundle, so much is that it has a contact form that is compatible with Akismet. All you need to do is tick a box, and all messages filter through Akismet, so you don’t need an annoying Recaptcha, fantastic!
To use the Akismet service you need to sign up for an account. Akismet is free for non-commercial sites or £4 per month for business accounts. I have a great post here – How to Prevent WordPress Spam which gives you directions on how to set up the plugin.
There is another free spam plugin called Antispam Bee, but I haven’t tried this plugin yet, so I will report back when I have given it a whirl.
Social Pug social sharing plugin with premium upgrade
When you start publishing blog posts, you will need to share them on social media sites, and as well as that, you need to make it easy for other people to share your posts too.
The best way to do this is with a social sharing plugin. My favourite plugin for social sharing is Social Pug.
With Social Pug you can set up which networks you want to make available for sharing, and the style of the sharing buttons, along with an optional share count, which helps with your social proof. You can place your social share icons above or below your content, or both (as I do), or anywhere else on your post by using a shortcode.
You can also set up some follow icons which you can repeat anywhere on your site, such as the sidebar or footer by entering a shortcode or adding the Social Pug follow widget.
The Social Pug Premium ($29 per year) version allows you to set additional images and meta descriptions for Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, which for me makes it an essential upgrade.
WordPress is inherently very search engine friendly, but there is room for improvement.
The Yoast SEO plugin can help you optimise your post content and allows you to modify the metadata (titles and descriptions) that will show up on Google searches.
The plugin also has a unique traffic light system that allows you to measure how well optimised your post is for the chosen key phrase. It also generates site maps to help Google index your site.
If you are going to be using Pinterest and want to use Rich pins, then you need to have the Yoast SEO plugin activated to get verified.
There is a premium version (£79 per year) which gives you more SEO friendly goodness:
- suggestions as to which internal posts to link to within the text
- help with optimising for key phrase synonyms
- an insights tool, which lets you know which phases your content focuses, great for keeping on track
- redirections, which automatically creates a redirection should you change the URL of your post. No more 404 (page not found)!
Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
Once your blog starts to grow it is very useful to know how much traffic you are getting and where it is coming from along with a whole host of information that Google provides about your site visitors, including their location, what device they used to access your site and how long they spent browsing, and much more.
Google Analytics Dashboard for WP is a free plugin that adds a quick view of your analytics right on the dashboard, so there is no need to keep hopping over to the Google Analytics site.
The plugin will also add the Google Analytics tracking code to your site if your theme does not already do this for you.
You can view your data, in more than one way, by selecting the period or the type of data, sessions, users, page views, referrers, bounce rate and more.
I find looking at Google Analytics a bit daunting, and this is a much cleaner, easier way to see things.
Page Builder by SiteOrigin
I am generally not a fan of page builders, and I would argue that they are far from essential, especially now that we have the Gutenberg editor.
I include the Page Builder by SiteOrigin plugin in the list because with it you can to create beautiful layouts for your posts and pages, while the CSS code it adds to your site is minuscule, only 375 bytes to be precise! Compare this with a page builder like Elementor which adds 92 Kilobytes.
The plugin isn’t as functional as other page builders, and you may find it is not as intuitive to use, but I don’t mind, I’m happy to trade that for a lighter page load. If you find you do need something flashier, then you could always turn to Elementor for that.
Both page builder plugins can be installed at the same time without conflict. If you create a page with Elementor instead, the Site Origin CSS does not load, and vice versa, so you are not adding bloat to your whole site by having it there.
Another advantage of SiteOrigin Page builder is that if you pair it with the SiteOrigin widgets bundle, you get a whole array of different widgets that you can add to your landing pages.
SiteOrigin Widget Bundle
Put simply, the page builder plugin turns your page into a big widget area divided up into rows and columns. You can place one or more widgets in each area, to make your perfect page layout.
The page builder is perfect for something like a contact page where you could have two columns, with a contact form on the left and your social network follow me buttons on the right, and a map if you have a physical office.
All the widgets also work with the Gutenberg editor too. So you don’t need to have the SiteOrigin page builder installed.
Here are some of my favourite widgets included in the bundle:
- Contact form, with of different types of field
- Call to action, a box with a call to action button
- Layout slider, turn your content into a slider
- Post carousel, show your best posts in a carousel
- Icon, with many types of icon to choose from including FontAwesome
No follow for External link
Every time you link to an external site, you give a bit of your site ranking ‘juice’ as its called to the linked site. For a small blog, giving link juice to a higher ranked site could be damaging for your own ranking, so you don’t want to be doing this too often.
However, on the other side of the coin, Google looks favourably on posts that link to other sites, because outbound links add richness to the content, so you still want to do it, but without giving your juice away!
So how do you link to another site without giving away link juice?
The answer is to give the link a ‘nofollow‘ attribute. Nofollow tells Google, not to follow the link when it indexes your site, meaning that your juice is not given away!
It is possible to add the nofollow attribute to links manually if you don’t mind editing HTML, but do you think you are likely to remember to do it every time you link externally?
Well, I certainly cannot rely on myself to remember! This is where the No follow for external link plugin comes in because it will scan each page for external links and automatically add nofollow, so you never have to remember to do it. Fantastic.
WordPress Editorial Calendar
All good bloggers should have a posting schedule. When you have a strict posting schedule, your readers get to know when to check back to your site, and it sets a standard for consistency which is so crucial for a successful blog.
My posting schedule is currently twice per week. However, for the first time in about six months, I will be posting just once this week due to the epic size that this post has become!
When activated, the WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin, adds a calendar to the Posts submenu, allowing you to drag posts onto the date you want them published. This has the effect of setting their scheduled dates.
The great thing about scheduling a post is that WordPress will automatically publish it when the scheduled date arrives. Often I might be out and about during the publish time, and it feels so good checking my mobile to find my next post appear without me being there to hit the button!
I must confess that I don’t use this plugin that much. I prefer to use the Todoist task app. I have a Todoist project called Editorial where I add all the posts I am working on as separate tasks.
I set the due date of the task to the scheduled date of the corresponding WordPress post. When I visit the Todoist, I get a nice view of what I am working on as a list along with due dates. I also have a list of post ideas in a project call Post Ideas, which I drag into the Editorial project when I am ready to start work on a post.
I find that the WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin is useful for getting an overall view of what posts are coming up, and I’ve added it to this list because I know that some bloggers make much more use of it than I do.
TAO Schedule Update
This plugin is so useful!
As you know, I like to schedule my posts. TAO Schedule Update plugin does what previously would have been very complicated. It allows you to schedule the update of an existing post.
Let’s say you have a post called, My favourite plugins of 2018, and you wanted to update it to My favourite plugins of 2019. But, you want the updated post to be published next Friday, and you want to start working on it NOW, without altering the original post.
What you would do is find the My favourite plugins of 2018 in your list of posts, and click on Scheduled Update, this has the effect of creating a duplicate of the post, on which you then set the date that you want the scheduled update to replace the original.
You then get busy updating the duplicate post, while the original one does not change.
When the scheduled time for the update arrives, the TAO Schedule Update plugin does a magical thing.
It publishes the updated post replacing the old post at the same time. Crucially the URL remains unchanged from the original post, but the title may update if you have changed it.
Your updated post then looks as if it is a new post because it appears as the latest post on your blog page.
Unfortunately, this plugin has not been updated for the last nine months. I do hope it hasn’t been abandoned.
Smush Image Compression and Optimisation
All good blogs should have fast loading pages. While good hosting has a lot to do with this, you can help things immensely by only uploading images that have been resized to about the largest size specified in Settings->Media.
On my blog, the largest image size is 1024px X 1024px, so there is no point in uploading images any bigger than this because they will always get resized downwards.
The WordPress editor gives you the option to display an image at full size, which is a setting you should only use if you know that the full sized image is not too big. The last thing you want to do is to turn users away because they can’t be bothered to wait for your huge image to load in their browser!
Google now includes page load time in its ranking algorithm, so that’s another reason to keep image sizes low.
If you don’t resize images, you also waste space on your hosting server, and if you keep doing it, at some point, your host will tell you that you are using too much space and expect you to delete things or move to a more expensive plan.
Heads up: Never download a full-size image from a site like Unsplash or Pexels and upload it straight up to your Media library. Always downsize it first, because usually, the resolution is so high on these images that they are sometimes up to 10meg in size. A rule of thumb is to never upload anything over 1meg in size, which is still quite big.
You can resize images using the free Preview App on a Mac or the Paint app on Windows. I am a big fan of Affinity Photo, which does a great job of resizing and optimising images at the same time. When you go to resize, Affinity also estimates the eventual file size which is a handy gauge.
Once you are ready to upload your suitably resized image, it is the Smush Image Compression and Optimisation plugin’s turn to do its job optimising the image even further including the smaller sizes that WordPress automatically creates when you do an upload.
There isn’t much more to say about this plugin, you activate it, and it silently does its job each time you upload media to your library, helping you to have a super fast site.
So it is a must-have plugin.
Easy Affiliate Links
If you intend to make some money from your blog, then affiliate sales are likely to form a part of your revenue plan. A lot of successful blogs are built upon the earnings made from affiliate sales.
Affiliations are relationships that you set up with a company such as a web hosting site like SiteGround, or Amazon.
When you set up an affiliate account, you will receive a link that you can add to your blog posts when you mention or promote the affiliated company.
When a site visitor clicks your affiliate link, and that click results in a sale, you then earn a small commission on that sale.
The Easy Affiliate Links plugin allows you to manage your affiliations in one place on your site. It also makes a pretty link for you to use in your post, for example:
When you click the prettier link the Easy Affiliate Links plugin redirects the browser to the original, unpretty link, and then records the click in its database, so you can get an idea of how many clicks you are getting. It won’t tell you how much money you are making, you would need to head across to the affiliate site for that, but it is useful to know how many clicks you are getting on your links.
The Regenerate Thumbnails plugin is an essential admin tool that I always have installed, and it’s free.
For whatever reason, sometimes WordPress fails to create all the required media sizes and you can use this plugin re-create the image sizes should there be a problem.
This plugin comes into its own in the event that you switch to a different theme.
Themes often set custom image sizes. If your shiny new theme can’t find the image size it expects it will display the nearest size it can find, which often is the full-size version. Incidentally, that it is another reason why you should never upload media more than 1meg in size, as it is this version that is used if no other suitably sized image can be found. If you have uploaded a 6meg original image, page load time will be negatively affected.
To regenerate new images sizes, head over to the Media Library and click on an image, then click the Regenerate Thumbnails button.
There is also a bulk option which you can run by selecting images and then Regenerate Thumbnails from the bulk options drop down.
A good host will create backups for you, but there is usually a restriction on the number you can create per day. However, you should not rely solely on your host for backups; you should always take them yourself too.
The Updraft plugin allows you to create as many backups as you need.
When you set up your backup schedule with Updraft, you can also set the backup’s location, and this can be Dropbox. This is a lot safer than keeping them in your hosting account.
I have much more information here on how to backup your site using Updraft.
My favourite security plugin is Wordfence.
Wordfence is a free plugin (with a premium upgrade) that protects your site in a multitude of ways. The biggest one in my view is limiting the number of login attempts that anyone trying to access the admin side of your blog can make.
Bots like to try and guess passwords, but doing so requires multiple failed login attempts. The Wordfence plugin will block any users that exceed the number of allowed ‘guesses’.
If anyone does manage to log into your site, you get an email to that effect, so at least you can do something about it. Hopefully, that shouldn’t happen.
Another function it has is to scan your website for changes, which can sometimes be the case in the event of a hack.
Fast loading sites are critical nowadays.
Google now uses page load time as a ranking factor, so we had better make sure our sites are fast! Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to speed up your site, if it is lacking in that area.
Many hosts now offer in-built caching, so you don’t have to do much. If your host doesn’t provide caching, or you don’t have a high enough plan to use it, then the WP Supercache plugin is the next best thing.
Caching works by saving the original WordPress PHP pages as pure HTML for much faster access. PHP is the coding language that WordPress is written in.
After a page has been cached (usually after the first visitor requests the page), any subsequent page requests are served the cached HTML page instead of the original PHP page.
Cached HTML pages load much faster because it takes much less time to run them due to not needing to access the database or the WordPress source code.
The plugin will automatically flush the cached pages for you when you update a page or post.
There are lots of settings you can make to fine tune the cache, such as the total time a page is cached, and excluding individual pages from the cache, like your shopping cart for example.
In this post, I have talked about all the plugins that I consider to be an essential part of a successful blog made with WordPress.
If you have a plugin that you would like to add to this list, please comment below, and I will have a look. There are many thousands of plugins in existence, and lots more added all the time, so this list is bound to change from time to time, so do check back!
Just one last thing to say …
If you stop using a particular plugin, it is a very good idea to deactivate and then delete it.
Unfortunately, plugins with known exploits are a target for hackers. A deactivated plugin is still a risk even though it is not in use, so it is safest to just delete anything you are not actively using.