One of the biggest reasons people choose WordPress to build their sites is because it is very extensible. WordPress in itself already has awesome features for a content management system and as a website framework, straight out of the box. But unfortunately these features are not “all” that’s needed for a website to have a great chance of success.
The developers of WordPress made it this way because what we “need” depends on our purpose for the site that we are building. So they provide easy ways to extend WordPress – by installing plugins and themes.
For functionality extensions, plugins are usually the answer. There are currently more than 27,000 available plugins in the WordPress repository at the time of this writing, each offering their own functionality or set of functionalities that are not inherent to the base WordPress system.
But if you are just starting out, this huge number can be overwhelming. These plugins are all useful for specific purposes but which ones do really matter for you? …it can be quite confusing. If you are new to WordPress, and especially if you are building your first site, these are the plugins you don’t want to miss on your site:
1. Security Plugin
Before you even start with anything else, make sure your site is secure right at the beginning. You don’t want to wake up one day and find out some evil hackers hijacked your site and completely took over it. And if it’s really bad, all of your hard work for the site might be wasted and cannot be recovered.
So before doing any other kind of work after installing WordPress, install a security plugin first. I highly recommend Wordfence. It provides flexible security options and advanced features like the daily scan of your WordPress core, plugin and theme files.
For a simpler set of options but still a reliable security protection, the Limit Login Attempts plugin is a good choice.
2. SEO Plugin
After having the peace of mind that bad guys can’t have administrative access to your site, it’s time to think about getting found online. That means optimizing it for search engines. You have to make your site easily understandable to search engine spiders that scan webpages on the internet so that they will know what your content is all about. You can do this by installing one of the following plugins:
All in One SEO Pack – as the name implies, it has everything you need to make your whole site optimized for search engines so that your pages will appear in search results. Easy to use and pretty straightforward settings to setup.
WordPress SEO by Yoast – This one provides all the features found in the All in One SEO Pack, plus a lot more. If you don’t mind having to set up a few more settings, you would do well using this.
3. XML Sitemap Plugin
This part is complimentary to the SEO plugin. An XML sitemap of your site is intended to help search engine spiders easily navigate your site. It is essentially just a list of all the pages (blog posts included) that can be found on your site. The list should be in XML format and this is not intended to be viewed by human visitors, it’s only for search engine bots.
Having a plugin generate an XML list of all your webpages ensures that the list is updated with every new post/page you add. If you chose the WordPress SEO by Yoast as your SEO solution, you won’t be needing to install another plugin for generating an XML sitemap for your site, this is already included in that plugin.
But if you used the All in One SEO Pack, you can use one of the following:
4. Social Sharing Plugin
You know you’ll be posting cool and interesting stuff on your site, so you’ll want to provide your visitors convenient and easy ways for them to share your content. There are lots of good choices for this depending on a lot of factors like your style preferences or compatibility with your theme. But the following have been generally good choices for me on the sites I’ve created:
ShareThis – This is the one used on this site at the time of this writing. The main advantage you’ll get from this plugin over the others is their integrated social analytics. With this plugin, you’ll be able to gather data about the social aspect of your visitors engagement with your content.
Update: I have switched to Shareaholic as the social sharing plugin I use here on this site due to its better performance in terms of speed. There’s not a lot of customization you can do with it but it’s easy to integrate with the theme I’m using and I think it fits better.
Update: I was having trouble with Shareaholic after updating to WordPress 3.8.1. I tried a few other plugins and finally settled with Jetpack’s Sharing module because it seems to be the best one that integrates nicely with this site, with no technical issues. Too bad, I really liked the Shareaholic buttons before.
WP Socializer – This plugin provides a vast number of social sharing buttons and it is highly customizable. It also has that cool hovering share bar that you can place at the side of your content body and it goes down or up as the user scrolls through the page, staying always in view.
Jetpack – This plugin is developed by the makers of WordPress themselves and among other modules included in this, a set of simple but elegant social sharing buttons are available for you to place in your content.
5. Visitor Tracking Plugin
Knowing your visitors and what they want is essential to a website’s success. Even if you are just making small niche site, it is important that you track your visitors. Learning where they come from and which contents on your site appeal to them most will give you an idea on what to write more about. It will also give you an idea on the results of your efforts.
So track your site’s visitor statistics right from the start. You can use one or more of the following plugins.
Google Analytics – Installing this plugin doesn’t provide you tracking yet. The tracking service will be done by Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is quite possibly the best free tracking system out there, so it is rightly also the most popular. You’ll just have to create an account here and add your site to your account. Your site will be assigned an ID and this ID is what you’ll need to insert into the plugin settings in your WordPress admin area.
WordPress.com Stats in Jetpack – WordPress provides tracking for blogs that are hosted on their network. And they also provide the same tracking service for independently hosted WordPress installations if you connect your site to their system using the Jetpack plugin.
When you’ve installed the Jetpack plugin and connected it to WordPress.com, just enable the WordPress.com Stats module and you’re good to go. You’ll start seeing data about your visitors as soon as they start coming.
I’m a freak at collecting data, I want to know as much as I can about my sites and my visitors. So in some of my sites, I use both Google Analytics and Worpress.com Stats. Google Analytics provide way more details about your visitors and site performance but it can also be inaccurate. WordPress.com Stats on the other hand provides less information but I find that it is more accurate compared to GA’s data.
6. Legal Pages Plugin
One of the most common mistakes of new sites is not having these legal pages. So as a consequence, people don’t take them seriously. They will also have a hard time getting accepted into legit ad networks for monetization.
Now aside from it being very uninteresting, I’d rather not write the contents of these pages myself because I am not a lawyer in the first place. But in case you have a wierd interest with these things and you actually read a few of them (like I have), you’ll notice that they have fairly similar content or at least a minimum set of legal items.
These minimum or generic legal terms are actually contained and can be automatically generated by the following plugins for your site:
WP-insert – This plugin’s primary purpose is not the legal pages, but it has this feature, so you can use it for your site. In this plugin’s settings, you just set the pages you want to contain the legal terms and it will automatically generate the legal content containing the name of your site. You also have the ability to edit these contents if you want to change some of them.
7. Contact Form Plugin
Aside from the comments section in each post/page on your site, you need to provide a convenient way for your visitors to contact you. Establishing an open and ready line of communication with your visitors will help you get feedback from them. It will also help you generate business out of your site. Some of them might be things you are not expecting, like advertising offers or sponsorship deals, etc.
So be sure to pick one of these contact form plugins for your site:
Contact Form – Straightforward and easy setup for a simple contact form containing only standard fields (Name, email, subject and message). You can also easily modify your contact form to add additional fields.
Contact Form 7 – A more flexible contact form plugin which has more advanced features like the ability to manage multiple contact forms, the ability to submit the form without refreshing the page (Ajax-powered submitting), captcha, spam filtering and more.
WordPress Appointment Booking and Online Scheduling Plugin by vCita – For websites that need an online appointment scheduling solution.
Time to get started
With this short list of select plugins, you should be able to create a website that has in the background, all the essential features of a professionally-made site. And if you have already chosen a good theme for your site, all that’s left now should be to start publishing your content.
If you think there’s something missing in the list above, please let us know in the comments below and share the knowledge. You never know who’s going to benefit from it! And likewise, if you find this useful, you can also share your thoughts below.
All the best for your new site!