Best WordPress Plugins for Any Blog

There’s an overwhelming number of plugins available for WordPress (over 48K to be exact). Here are my top picks for improving your site’s performance, security, and appearance.

Blogging is more than creating good content. You must apply analytics, security, and presentation in order to be successful. And you have a lot more control over these things than you think! Below are my favorite plugins that can be applied to almost any site. Leveraging these tools will help you maximize your potential and focus on what’s really important: creating content and engaging with your readers.


PERFORMANCE

Yoast SEO

An essential plugin for anyone looking to enhance their site’s performance is Yoast SEO. This plugin provides real-time analysis for your posts’ readability and SEO, both important to ranking on search engines. What I like about this app is that it doesn’t provide ratings only; it provides reasons backing those ratings. This helps the user learn general SEO methodology that they can then apply to future posts.

W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache comes with a wealth of tools for improving your site’s performance. Among them are faster load times, and improved SEO and user experience. The theory is that these features increase browsing time and page views, which contribute to higher traffic and downstream conversion rates. And with over 1+ million downloads and a near 4.5-star rating, it seems to be working. (Recommended use with CloudFlare.)

Insert Headers and Footers

Having 6 years experience in digital advertising, I can safely say that much of a brand’s success can be attributed to their pixeling strategy. For those new to this, pixeling allows you to track, analyze, and build audiences based on a small snippet of code. Using this data, you can better target new or existing users to increase branding/conversions on your site.

That’s a whole other post, but the important thing is to start tracking early. Place your pixels now so when you know/are ready to leverage them, you have enough data to do so. Headers and Footers lets you do that (for those not using a TMS). I recommend placing Google remarketing and conversion tags first, in addition to Facebook if you anticipate social advertising.

Google Analytics

The most valuable superpower you have is data. The plugin gives you access to general traffic trends and referrals, helping you understand your growth and where it’s coming from.

If you want to take it a step further, I encourage you to use Google Analytics directly, which provides extensive insights into your site’s performance and audience profiles. Think of the plugin as a snapshot, and the website as the whole camera roll.

Google XML Sitemap

Simply put, a sitemap lists all public pages associated with your website. This allows search engines to discover your content more easily. The nice thing about sitemaps is that they’re automatic once they’ve been implemented. Meaning, your page/post/category maps will update upon publishing new content. Cue Ron Popeil, “Set it and forget it!”.

Broken Link Checker

It’s a little heartbreaking to find a broken link on your website. How did this happen? How long has it been there? Broken Link Checker does the work for you.

You have a lot of control over how the program runs: where it looks, how often, and how to resolve. Peace of mind has never been so easy!

Redirection

Redirection does something similar. It lets you redirect URLs that call 404 errors within your site (or, dead pages). Say, you changed a post’s title or permalink structure. This could result in a different URL/slug and redirect your visitor to a dead page. Which is neither helpful nor professional to the reader.

Yoast SEO detects those 404’s under their Search Console, but in order to resolve them, you must upgrade to their Premium version ($69 at the time of this post). It’s a bit more manual, but Redirection lets you do it for free.

Jetpack

Jetpack is WordPress’s stock plugin for site management. I was a bit skeptical at first, but have learned to appreciate the extensive tools Jetpack has to offer. And I mean that; there are pages of tools to pick from. I elect those for site stats, social sharing and RSS, performance and security. But it really comes down to your goals; what you already have and what you need. Spend a couple hours exploring Jetpack and enabling features that fit best for you.


SECURITY

Wordfence Security

Malicious attacks are inevitable, and you need a second layer of security to prevent them. I was turned onto Wordfence after witnessing 10,500 blocked login attempts overnight. The situation could have been a lot worse than it was, and I was lucky to catch it without issue.

After loads of research, I settled on Wordfence Security, a plugin with 1+ million downloads and almost perfect rating. The tool is extensive and includes regular scanning, alerts, automatic and manual user/IP blocking, and live traffic reports. It’s quite technical at first glance, but once your standard settings are implemented, it’s pretty self-sufficient.

Akismet

Akismet can be enabled/disabled under the Jetpack plugin. Its core feature is blocking spam comments on your website, allowing you (the moderator) to review posts before they appear on your page. It’s an easy solution to view, track and manage “spammy” content that could affect your site’s credibility.

Support Me

There’s a lot of troubleshooting that goes into a blog! And with that, comes the necessity for user logins. This can be a pain and dangerous if you have too many 3rd party logins distributed. Which is where Support Me comes in.

Support Me allows you to create temporary users that automatically expire after a certain period of time (if ever). These users have full admin access without the ability to create, edit, or delete other users. Making support possible and cleanup easy.


APPEARANCE

Simple Custom CSS

One of the upmost important plugins on the list is Simple Custom CSS, a clean way to override stock CSS for your Theme. I’ve used this from formatting to page layout, and couldn’t imagine managing my site with out it.

Of course, this begs the need for standard CSS knowledge. W3 Schools offers a library of basic CSS. Explore this, as well as the Inspect tab of your browser, to implement new styles on your page.

NOTE: Simple Custom CSS answers a different need than implementing Child Themes. The latter works best for Theme-specific updates, while the plugin is more overarching. Research both and see what’s best for you.

Display Widgets

Display Widgets is the easiest way to control widget visibility (…and I’ve tried a few). Here, you can insert different widgets into the same sidebar(s) and control which pages they display or don’t display. Great when using global layouts with different widget preferences. What makes it better is there’s no complex php required!


BONUS

Admin Menu Editor

With all these plugins, your side menu can become quite cluttered! I always loose where plugins are stored, and constantly wish they were positioned elsewhere. Then, I discovered Admin Menu Editor – quite an impressive solution for cleaning up your dashboard.

The plugin is incredibly customizable. You can organize tabs as they are, or, using custom fields you add yourself. Enter the title and destination, and select an icon to make tabs more identifiable. You won’t believe how much easier this makes navigation of your dashboard!

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