What are plugins and do I need them?
Quite simply put, plugins are a way of expanding the features on your WordPress blog. And with WordPress claiming that there are over 59,000 free plugins available for the platform, you’d be hard pushed not to find something which suits your site and your needs.
But searching through 59,000 free plugins is not the most achievable of tasks. Especially when you consider all of the paid-for plugins which are available on top of that.
So, where do you start? Getting down to the core of which plugins you need for your site can be a difficult task. Many successful (and unsuccessful) bloggers will have gone through a variety of different plugins and plugin combinations before settling on their final list. And even that final list is likely to change as software develops to meet the changing needs of the internet and content creators.
When you start out, it can be really easy to get swept up in the recommendations of all of the plugins out there. And before you know it, you have a slow site, weighted down with plugins that you don’t really need, or conflict each other.
Before opting for plugins, I really urge people to consider WHY they need a plugin in the first place. Next, ensure that the one you are looking at is the right one for you. In my experience, just because a plugin is raved about, does not mean that it is the best one to meet the needs of me or my blog.
With so much advice out there about plugins, I put together this post recommending my top plugins. I’ve broken the plugins into three sections:
Let me know in the comments below which plugins are your favourite and why!
Get WordPress hosting for only $1.99 a month >>
WordPress Plugins: How do I install Them?
I’m glad you’ve asked! There’s no point in reading a post all about my top recommended plugins if you don’t know how to install them.
So, let’s start with the basics of how you even install a plugin in the first place.
There are two ways of installing WordPress plugins: directly from the WordPress dashboard, or by uploading the plugin after downloading it from the developer’s website. Before we get onto talking about the plugins that your WordPress blog cannot do without, I’ll walk you through both ways of installing a plugin for your WordPress blog.
How To Install WordPress Plugins: Installing plugins from the WordPress Dashboard
Installing plugins from the WordPress Dashboard is probably the easiest way to navigate the installation process.
- In your WordPress Dashboard, hover over ‘Plugins’ and select ‘Add New.’
- In the search bar, type in the name of the plugin you would like to install.
- From the list which appears, click ‘Install’ next to the plugin you want. Once installed, click ‘Activate’ to activate the plugin.
How To Install WordPress Plugins Manually: Installing plugins after downloading from the plugin’s website
Some plugins need to be downloaded from the WordPress or software developer’s website and then manually uploaded to your blog.
To do this, simply download the plugin when prompted from the developer’s website. Once downloaded, make a note of where you have downloaded the file to. Most of the time, the .zip file will download to your ‘Downloads’ folder, but this depends on your computer settings. There is no need to unzip or edit this file in any way. You will need to upload the .zip file exactly as it’s been downloaded, so don’t play around with it once it’s been downloaded onto your computer.
- On your WordPress Dashboard, hover over ‘Plugins’ and then click on ‘Add new.’
- On the plugin page, click ‘Upload Plugin’ at the top of the dashboard.
- Drag the .zip file of the plugin which you have just downloaded into the space provided.
- Click ‘Install Now.’ Once installed, click ‘Activate.’ Your plugin will now be activated and you can locate it via your plugins, or in the menu sidebar to adjust any settings/features you would like.
- Once uploaded, installed, and activated, it is up to you if you want to delete the .zip file from your computer. Personally, if I have paid for the plugin, I like to keep a hold of the .zip file download, just in case. However, if it’s a free plugin, I usually just delete it. This is personal preference though and you will probably be influenced by how much storage space you have as to whether you keep the .zip file on your computer/laptop, or delete it once it’s on your WordPress.
How to Update WordPress Plugins
Updating plugins is a must when it comes to keeping your website running smoothly. Running out of date plugins could at best mean that your website/the plugin features don’t work properly, and at worse, leave you exposed to hackers and poor website security.
In other words: yes, it’s important to ensure that your WordPress plugins are kept updated.
When a plugin is due for an update, WordPress will tell you this. In the plugin section of the WordPress menu, a number will appear next to the word ‘Plugins.’ This indicates the number of plugins which require your attention. Click ‘Installed Plugins’ to navigate to the list of your installed plugins for your website.
When you see the list of your plugins, scroll down until you see those with an orange box (like the picture below). To update your plugins follow the instructions in the orange box which appears to update the plugin.
An easy way to keep your plugins updated is to enable auto-updates. To do this, go to the plugins section of your WordPress dashboard and click ‘Auto-updates Enabled’ at the top.
A list of your installed plugins will appear. Click ‘Enable auto-updates’ via the hyperlink at the end of the line for the plugin. Do this for every plugin you would like to have automatically update itself.
Are WordPress Plugins free?
Not always. There are different types of plugins. Some are free, some are paid for, and some have both paid for and free options (often called ‘Freemium’ due to having both free and premium features).
In the case of Freemium plugins, you may decide to use the free features of a plugin only. After a while of using, you may decide to upgrade to the paid for version of the plugin, or keep using the free features only. Remember; paid for features aren’t always needed. There are a few Freemium plugins which I use which I’ve no need for the paid for features and this doesn’t affect either my use of the plugin, or my website functionality.
Can I trust free plugins?
In short, yes, you can trust free plugins. In fact, some of the best plugins (in my humble opinion) are available are free.
If you have found a free plugin which you aren’t sure if it’s worth using, I would recommend considering the following:
- Research the plugin via a search engine. What are people saying about it? Is there support available if you need it? Remember though: online reviews can be tricky to navigate. People are more likely to review something when they have had a negative experience than when they’ve had an experience which has been positive.
- Is the plugin supported for your version of WordPress? If a plugin isn’t supported by your version of WordPress, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you might run into some glitches depending on when the plugin was last updated.
- When was the plugin last updated? Do the developers keep the plugin up-to-date, or has it been a long time since anything was done to it?
- How many installs has it had? If it’s got a lot of installations, you can bet that it’s a decent plugin. However, on saying that, don’t always be guided by the numbers. Sometimes plugins with fewer installs are actually better than those with more installations. It may be that the plugin is quite new and therefore not used by lots of people yet, or just that it’s competing with a very well known plugin within its category.
Best Free Plugins
Below is a list and descriptions of the best free plugins which I use/have used in the past. There are lots of alternatives to these plugins, and this list is just based on personal opinion, but hopefully you’ll find it useful if you’re just starting out with WordPress plugins.
Anti-Spam Bee is a popular alternative (and free!) version to Akismet. This plugin helps fight spam comments submitted when people comment on your blog posts. A very handy tool in my opinion, especially if you like to approve all comments prior to them being published.
GDPR Cookie Consent
GDPR and privacy are two huge words in blogging. GDPR Cookie Consent enables you to put a consent banner on your website which is customised to your theme/brand. More than that, GDPR Cookie Consent has how-to guides for writing various policies for your site.
Gutenbee enhances your WordPress editing by providing you with blocks to use when creating blog posts and web pages in WordPress. Personally, I love Gutenbee, it works really well with my theme to help me create my pages to look exactly how I want them too.
Insert Headers and Footers is an amazing and free plugin which allows you to add snippets of code to your headers and footers without playing around with your theme’s code.
LiteSpeed Cache is a caching plugin. I use WP Rocket for my caching now, but when I started out, LiteSpeed Cache was a great, free alternative. However, do note that this free plugin does not have all of the features which WP Rocket has.
LuckyWP Table of Contents
Have you ever gone onto someone’s blog and wondered how they got a table of contents at the top? Whilst there are quite a few options out there, I love Lucky WP Table of Contents. It’s a free plugin, which has a lot of customisable features.
LuckyWP Table of Contents – I love a table of contents included in my blog posts and this is the free plugin which I use to achieve this. You can fully customise the table of contents to suit the aesthetic of your blog.
Resmush.it is a great little plugin which optimises your images by compressing them when uploaded to your site. I mention ‘Smush’ later on in this list too. Remember that you only need one image compression and optimisation plugin. Resmush.it is the plugin which I currently use, as it is compatible and recommended by WP Rocket.
Site Kit by Google
Site Kit by Google provides you with a super easy way to have Google AdSense, Google Analytics, and Search Console without the need for adding any code into your site’s theme.
Smush helps to optimise your images with very little effort on your part. Site speed and size go a long way in the blogosphere. Although I’ve moved onto Imagify, Smush offer a great free version of their image compression plugin. Simply install and the plugin takes care of your image compression and optimisation settings for you.
WP Forms Lite
WPForms Lite is a great plugin if you need forms on your website. I use the free version of this plugin for the newsletter subscription form and contact forms found on my blog. Using forms rather than providing an email address is a much more secure way to have people contact you and cuts your risk of spam.
Best Freemium Plugins
What is a freemium plugin?
A freemium plugin is a plugin which has got both free and paid for features. That is, you can get a free version of the plugin, but if you want additional features, you’ll have to upgrade and pay a monthly/yearly/lifetime fee for those additional premium features.
All in One SEO
AIOSEO is an SEO plugin and is a good alternative to Yoast and RankMath. Depending on your preferences, if you aren’t getting on with Yoast of RankMath, AIOSEO may be for you. Whilst the plugin won’t automatically make you appear on the first page of Google (no plugin can help you do that), the plugin provides a handy checklist of tasks to complete to help improve the SEO of that post. Equally, the plugin has useful tools, including indexing site maps for your site, to help improve your SEO.
The free version comes with a range of features, whilst the paid-for version enables you to enter unlimited key words, social media integration, WooCommerce SEO, and Smart Schema Markup.
Grow by Mediavine
Grow By Mediavine used to be known as Social Pug. The plugin enables users to insta social sharing buttons and floating share buttons on their website. The buttons on the free version of the plugin can be customised to match your branding. You can also have counters appear to show how much your content has been shared to various platforms. You can use the premium version to add further information to posts, such as multiple pins for Pinterest and Pinterest alt text.
Social Warfare is a social sharing plugin. Similar to Grow by Mediavine, Social Warfare is a plugin which enables you to have social sharing buttons for social media channels on your site. If you look at this post, you’ll see social sharing buttons at the top of the blog post and floating on the side of the web page. Social Warfare enables you to achieve this. As with Grow by Mediavine, more options are available for Pinterest pins and alt text with the paid for version of Social Warfare Pro. You don’t need this and Grow by Mediavine, but check them out and see which works best for you.
Install Social Warfare Pro for only $29 for one website >>
Best Paid-For Plugins
Are paid-for plugins worth it?
It really depends on your point of view on this one. Some people will vow that certain paid-for plugins are worth their weight in gold, whilst other people don’t see the need for paying for plugins at all. Then there’s people like me who sit in the middle. Whilst I try and use free plugins as much as possible (I am a bit of a cheap-skate when able!), I have paid for plugins where I can’t find an alternative which covers everything I want for free.
A lot of paid-for plugins have free versions which you can install and have a go on before upgrading/committing to paying anything. Others (like WP Rocket) do not have a free version, but do have a 14-day money back guarantee. This means that you can purchase the plugin and if you don’t like it, you can ask for a refund.
WP Rocket is a web performance plugin designed to dramatically improve your site speed with no coding skills required. I purchased and installed this plugin within two months of setting up this blog. I wanted something to easily speed up my site without the need for multiple caching plugins – I wanted a plugin which did all of the features I wanted in one.
Since installing, WP Rocket has not disappointed.
Below are two screenshots. The first screenshot shows a website speed analysis of my website on Pingdom before installing and activating WP Rocket. The second screenshot shows the results of a website speed analysis on Pingdom after installing, activating, and setting the features of WP Rocket on my website. These results really do speak for themselves. All in, these were my results:
- My website speed increased by 77%
- My webpage size decreased by 57.5%.
- My page requests reduced by 65%
Click to read my full review of WP Rocket >>
How Many Plugins Are Too Many?
This is a good question, and one which comes with a very vague answer. When it comes to plugins, I am of the opinion that you want enough to achieve what you want to achieve with your website. However, if you don’t know what your plugins do, they’re conflicting with each other, or your site speed is being affected, it could be a sign that you need to go through your plugins and decide what needs to stay and what can go. Perhaps you can condense your plugins and find one which fulfils the functions of multiple plugins without slowing your site down.
When it comes to assessing your plugins, consider the following:
- Do I need this plugin?
- Is it beneficial for my website?
- Is there a way to achieve this functionality without the use of a plugin (i.e. inserting code using Insert Headers and Footers rather than using a plugin).
This post was proofread using Grammarly.