Fewer plugins, better performance?
It’s pretty common knowledge that with WordPress, too many plugins can cause performance issues. Some may add to your page load time, and others may have compatibility issues with your theme, other plugins, or custom code. Even if your plugins don’t bog down your site, if you don’t stay on top of updates they could still affect performance.
That being said, there are a few types of plugins that you really NEED for your website. And some of them can even Improve performance.
1. Search Engine Optimization
It’s hard to configure SEO on WordPress without a plugin. So, take it easy on yourself and include one in every build. It’ll be one of the most important things you include.
Yoast is the most well-known SEO plugin for WordPress. It comes with sitemap generation, title and description settings for each page and post type, url redirects, and much more. The free plugin is usually all you need, but if you want to control your social media share preview you should go for the premium version at $89/year.
The downside of Yoast is that you need to purchase premium to get the social media preview settings, and it doesn’t come with Schema. The SEO Framework offers both, as well as almost all the other settings of Yoast, for free. This is the plugin we currently use on our WordPress builds.
All In One SEO is another well-known option. It has the same settings as the other two plugins, and it’s known for being super easy for beginners to set up.
2. Image Compression
Images are important for user engagement, but they can really weigh down a web page. Using an image compression plugin helps them load faster.
Smush is fantastic for image compression. The best part is, all you have to do is push a button. It compresses images both in the media library and in other directories. The premium version can get you twice as much compression as well as additional image options.
This plugin was made by the creators of TinyPNG, which is a site that compresses images using a drag & drop interface. It’s extremely useful, and now you can get the same service from inside your WordPress dashboard.
3. Speed Optimization
Speed optimization goes hand in hand with image compression and SEO. You can’t have good SEO without fast page loading speeds, because it affects search engine ranking and user retention.
WP Speed of Light has caching, WordPress optimization, and minification. It has a great combination of performance improvement and compatibility with themes and plugins. The free version is good, but I recommend using this with the premium addon. This one is super easy to use on the recommended settings, but the documentation for advanced settings is pretty lacking.
Autoptimize is an excellent plugin for advanced users. It has great minification and caching settings, but some of its advanced settings can be hard to use for beginners. However, if you use the “recommended” settings, you should be able to complete setup and get some serious improvement even without advanced knowledge of speed optimization.
4. Social Media
Every business needs at least one social media profile. Most need multiple. But, it doesn’t do a lot of good if you don’t have social media integrated with your website. Many businesses can get away with simple icon links to their social profiles, and most WordPress themes come with that ability. If you need more, like share buttons or embedded feeds, you will need a plugin.
This one is from Elegant Themes, the creator of our favorite framework, Divi. It’s always a good idea to try and get your plugins from your theme’s creator when possible, to ensure greater compatibility. Monarch is well-known as one of the best social plugins, though, and should be compatible with almost everything. It’s fantastic because it comes with options that let you change the color, appearance, position, and animation of the icon buttons.
Juicer is excellent for aggregating and displaying your social posts in one feed (or multiple, if you purchase a higher level subscription). It uses a plugin and shortcode, or there’s a simple embed code. So you can really use it anywhere. If you choose the free version, you can style the feed but will have to put up with Juicer’s logo … which is only fair. I only recommend the paid versions if your business relies heavily on social media traffic, or you’re a news/magazine site.
5. Email Marketing
Like it or not, studies continue to show that email campaigns are a highly effective form of advertisement. They’re a great way to improve customer retention. But, with so much spamming going on, you want to make sure your contacts are people who legitimately want to receive your messages. The best way to do that is to prompt them to opt in on your website, where they are already consuming your content.
Another one from Elegant Themes, Bloom is extremely well known for its versatility and compatibility. It’s often noted as the top email marketing plugin available. There are other good ones, but Bloom is our favorite. It has options for sidebars, pop-ups, and pretty much any kind of optin you can think of. It’s easy to style with just the basic options, but you can do even more with CSS. It connects to every major email marketing provider known to man, and even some that are more obscure.
Optin Monster is also very popular, but it requires you to use an Optin Monster email marketing account, which is why we don’t typically use it. It does come very highly recommended.
Neil Patel, one of my favorite sources for SEO learning, can’t say enough good things about Hello Bar. Its main function is to make announcements, but it also has form options. Like its name, it’s pretty much just a bar that appears at the top of your website.
WordPress is open source, meaning information about the code is available to anyone (for development purposes). The only problem with that, is that some people will use it to develop new ways to break into your site. It’s pretty easy to protect yourself with some simple plugins, though.
This one falls under “security” for me purely because it protects you from spammy comments on your blog. That doesn’t necessarily prevent hacking, but it keeps you and your users safe from phishing links and bots.
Manage WP offers all kinds of monitoring, backups, security scans, updates, and more. We use it on our own site and any site we manage. It’s great because you have all the website management features you need in one place.
You’ll have to get an SSL certificate (we always recommend paid, but you can get a free one from Let’s Encrypt), but this plugin makes it really easy to install if your web host doesn’t have any automated options. If you’re not sure what it is, we have a quick explanation of how SSLs work.
We went through a few plugins looking for something that would help us with compliance while blending with our branding. This one was by far the best free option. It even lets you configure opt-outs for your visitors so that only those who choose to allow will have information saved, and only the types they want to allow. We use the blanket “Accept” and recommend the same for most sites. Those with a lot of advertisements or whose main purpose is to make money through advertising may want to look into configuring the advanced options.
Compatibility is Key
Try to get as many of these features in the same plugin as possible. Research their mobile compatibility, speed performance, last updated date, and user reviews. But, the most important thing to remember is to find the plugins that are most compatible with your theme and other plugins. It could be the best plugin in the WordPress world, but it won’t do you any good if it’s not compatible with your website.
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