WordPress plugins are essential and you’ll likely have at least a few installed on your website. But what are they, how many should you have and how can you be sure you’ve got the best ones? Let’s demystify WordPress plugins so your site can do everything it needs to and run smoothly.
What are WordPress Plugins?
WordPress plugins extend the functionality of your website. Your WordPress theme will have some built-in functionality, this can range from page builders to learning management systems and directories. Anything that you to would need in addition to your theme’s capabilities can be done with plugins.
Here are some examples of common things you might need a plugin for:
- Language switching
- Social media feeds
- Complex forms
- Email marketing integrations
- Classic WordPress editor
- Popups inc GDPR consent
- Memberships and courses
Why Less Really is More
So, you can make your WordPress website do pretty much anything, but should you? Well, the short answer is no! When extending how much your website can do, you should think VERY carefully. An endless list of plugins can cause all manner of issues on your website. If that list is large you can be sure there is at least one poorly coded or unsupported plugin that could slow down your website, cause security to be breached or break your website altogether.
The simple fact is, with so many plugins available, conflicts can and do happen. The more plugins you have the more likely it is that something will conflict and the harder it will be to identify the problem.
When I’m building a client website I make sure I use a well-supported theme that does most of what I need and use a handful of well supported and regularly updated plugins to do the rest.
Thinking about installing a new plugin? STOP, think about whether you really need it, can you live without it, can it be done off-site – Google Analytics and Really Simple SSL plugins are good examples of this. You should also check your existing plugins and theme functionality to see if you already have what you need. I can’t tell you how many times I find multiple plugins for the same thing on client websites!
How to Choose Good WordPress Plugins
Choosing good WordPress plugins is essential. Whenever you are looking for a new plugin make sure to check how recently it was updated and have a scan through the support page on WordPress.org or the plugin website to see if the author is responding to questions. You should also check if the plugin is compatible with your theme or has any known conflicts with other plugins you are using.
Must have WordPress Plugins for 2021
RankMath has been our favourite SEO plugin for a long time, we love it and our clients find it a lot more intuitive than other front runners like Yoast. Top features include the easy setup wizard that even imports all your SEO tags and information from Yoast, image SEO, a checklist that guides you through the on-page optimisation process, multilingual support for top plugins, sitemaps, redirections, a 404 monitor and to top it off it works flawlessly with page builders like Elementor and Divi.
Wordfence Security protects your website from malicious code and hacking attempts. There is a free version and a premium version which offers a few more features. With Wordfence you get malware scans, warnings about security vulnerabilities like out of date plugins and themes, and protection through the firewall that blocks malicious traffic and limits login attempts. The premium version enables real-time protection for sites that require better security.
Having tried out a multitude of social feed plugins over the years, Smash Balloon is by far our favourite. It has some great customisation features, is simple to set up and is mobile responsive. If you would like to display a feed of your Instagram posts, this is the plugin for you.
Accept Stripe Payments is a lite plugin that links with your Stripe account. You can create products to display on a product page or simply use shortcodes or links within your regular WordPress pages to open the payment popup. The plugin includes options for automatic downloads, tax, shipping, custom donation amounts, custom thank you pages per product and variable products where upsells can be added or the variations can create the final price.
The only premium plugin on my list but worth every penny. This is the plugin I use for multilingual client websites and it takes care of everything from translating posts and pages to emails, menus and media. WPML is compatible with most themes and other popular plugins, is great for SEO and has top-notch support. In my opinion, you won’t find a better plugin for your multilingual website.
Final thoughts, including plugins you should not use!
To finish off, I wanted to list some plugins you should absolutely not use on your website:
SSL secure plugins – these plugins ensure all traffic to your website goes through the secure version on https. They basically replace 3 lines of code you can add to your .htaccess file yourself, these have been the culprit behind many a slow website. I know updating things on your hosting can seem daunting but this is a simple copy paste and your host may even do it for you if they’re any good. Here’s a simple guide if you want to grab the code. Please do back up your website before making any changes like this (and regularly!!!).
Google Analytics – there are a host of analytics plugins available for WordPress. Do yourself a favour and just log in to your analytics account to see the data.
Image optimisers. – it’s so easy to optimise your website images before loading them onto your website. Often these plugins suck up a lot of resources unnecessarily. Check out our blog on optimising images easily in your browser for more info.
Things that should be done on the server – PHP versions selectors, database access, daily backups etc. If you don’t have these things with your hosting you should consider switching!
Unsupported plugins – any plugin that hasn’t been updated at least in the last six months to a year.
With so much choice you can be forgiven for grabbing the first plugin that seems to do what you need but for the sake of your website running smoothly, staying secure and avoiding a maintenance headache, choose your plugins wisely.
Thanks for reading, see you next time!