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WordPress Plugins

Beginner’s Guide To Essential (Free) WordPress Plugins In 2017

Post Series: Getting Started With WordPress

Plugins are used for a number of different purposes on WordPress sites. At the time of writing this post, there are 49,254 plugins on WordPress.org’s plugin repository. You can not possibly need so many plugins and nor should you have to go through all of those plugins to find out which plugins are best for you. That’s why I’m here 🙂

Why WordPress Plugins ?

Well WordPress is an easy to use, reasonably powerful Content Management System. A CMS is designed to act as a platform for every type of website and not any one type of websites in specific. So it has to be a bit generalist in its approach.

Now you may want to do a couple of things with your barebones WP. Now assuming that you can code and add functions to your WordPress database, it still would be quite the hassle.

Plugins were created to solve this particular hassle.

Whilst plugins can not be tailor made for a particular website there are several plugins that cater to specific functions that will prove useful to all WordPress websites irrespective of niche of business or type of site. And apart from that there are niche specific plugins as well.

Today I’ll introduce those plugins that I think a WordPress site can not do without.

What functions do must-have plugins cater to ?

We’ll look at the best few plugins in each category.

Security Plugins

Wordfence

Wordfence

Wordfence is an efficient website guard dog, it comes with a firewall, login security measures and auto scheduled scanning options.

It is a cloud powered system. The plugin works by scanning your website (WP database and files) for changes, malicious scripts or viruses and it is compared with the constantly updated repositories of plugins and themes stored on their servers.

The plugin also helps keep your website off Google’s blacklist (GSB). It does so by scanning your entire website for links you may have included which are part of the GSB, which may then cause your site to land up on the GSB.

The plugin has a basic options panel which can be used by all and an advanced options that allows for fine tuning plugin performance. This plugin promptly informs you when someone is trying to access your site when they shouldn’t be able to via email updates. The scanning options are pretty impressive and permits for checking your WP out thoroughly. With the firewall you can throttle site requests if something seems suspicious. This is useful if you ever have to fend off a Denial-of-service attack (DDoS) or brute force (automated password guessing) attacks.

Monitoring live traffic is a breeze, despite the fact that it is pretty redundant unless you are on the look out for something specific in your website’s traffic.

Live Traffic

You can block certain countries from accessing your website if you want too, although why someone would do something like that I have no clue 😉 Apart from the above, you can block IPs, ranges of IP addresses, enable cellphone sign-ins and also enable caching.

More info / Download

The premium version of the plugin offers even more in the way of security options. 

Alternate Security Plugins,

The two plugins recommended as alternates are not inferior to Wordfence. And I do recommend checking them out if you have the time and pick the one that you feel has the better UI and is comfortable to use.

WordPress BackUps

Site backups are crucial.

If you run a revenue generating website or intend to make your site into one in the near future. Then time is money.

If ever your site goes down for some reason, you need to get it back up immediately. Every second your site remains offline, you lose revenue. It needs to be backed up on a regular basis with easy restoration options.

One more thing about backups you ought to know. If you host provider offers backup options, find out if their backup servers are separate from their normal servers. If not, then by putting the backup and your site on the servers in the same physical location it makes your site vulnerable to any physical catastrophe that may cause harm to your host’s servers. We need the backup in location and on a server entirely independent of your host’s servers.

UpdraftPlus

UpdraftPlus

With UpdraftPlus you can save a copy of your WP and all its contents on a number of different locations.

  • Amazon S3
  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • Rackspace Cloud
  • FTP & SFTP
  • Email

And the list goes on.

You can select the backup interval according to your needs. It is best to backup your site at least once a day. The plugin permits only one backup location for the free version of the plugin. If you’d like to backup your site to more than one location, you’ll need to add a premium plugin that costs $20.

UpdraftPlus helps backup your plugins, your themes, uploads and other content. You can also run a WP database backup alternately at a different interval from your normal backup. Restoration of both files and database are easy and in most cases seamless.

This is probably the best free plugin for the job. The other plugins and services which offer the same services as this plugin does are premium services. That being said you can extend the capabilities of this plugin with the premium version which offers even more in the way of features.

More info / Download

Search Engine Optimization

We receive a healthy chunk of our traffic from search engines aka Google. Let’s make sure Google is your ally.
A few simple tricks enabled by a plugin will help your site with SEO. And your site will not suffer in any way due to poor search engine optimization.

WordPress SEO

A great tool for search engine optimization, we use the same on ColorLib.

WordPress SEO

It helps with a great number of seemingly small, yet cumulatively rather important things.

Plugin helps ensure titles, meta data, permalinks, breadcrumbs, RSS feed, your site’s social accounts, homepage, taxonomies and archives are in order. You can create an XML sitemap, which is basically a blueprint for your website. This is made available for a search engine’s crawler to pick up. WordPress SEO prevents the site from encountering any content duplication problems from within your own site.

It helps calculate the search engine optimization of each post you publish prior to publication. Yoast’s plugin helps shows a snippet preview of how your post turns up on a search.

Add an SEO keyword, title and meta description. You can view in the Page Analysis at the bottom of your page/post editor, the keyword density, minimum word count recommendation, the ease of content readability, number of outbound links and the social aspects of your content as well.

More info / Download

SEO is not the same for all sites, the process can be altered differently for Commerce sites, sites that employ geolocation to target local customers, sites that specialize in video content and even news. Yoast’s premium offerings cater to all these SEO requirements as well.

Social Media Sharing

Making your content worthy merit is good, now we need to get the word out! Social sharing plugins make it possible for your readers share your content.

The prime focus of a social sharing plugin in my opinion needs to be accessibility. Assuming someone wants to share your content, you should make the process as easy as can be. And the second thing you need to ensure is social media buttons do not clutter and overcrowd your website.

Simple Share Buttons Adder

Simple Share Buttons Adder

Simple as the name might suggest and highly effective, easy to use social sharing plugin for WordPress. The social sharing buttons can be displayed on any page or post, in the categories, archives, excerpts and the home page. The social sharing options can be placed below or above your content. And you can add it to the sidebars and footers with a text widget and a shortcode that the plugin provides.

More info / Download

Check out the premium version here.

Other social sharing plugins worthy of note,

Site Caching – WordPress Performance Optimization

WordPress is dynamic and every time someone visits your site, requests are made to a database which holds your content. Accessing data from a database is time consuming and loads your servers. You can reduce both the load time and the server load by using a caching plugin.

A caching plugin essentially transforms your dynamic site into a static one. And this in effect, makes your site faster. When a caching plugin is fully operational, it does significantly affect your site’s performance.

Your site’s performance is crucial to a good visitor experience, slow websites make for terrible user experiences. Apart from that your site’s performance is factored into search algorithms and they reward speed.

WP Super Cache

WpSuperCache

I like this plugin a lot, it caters to the needs of the tech savvy and those who aren’t as comfortable with WordPress. But it certainly does not sacrifice performance.

It produces supercached files (served by PHP) which is one of the fastest caching methods you could hope to use.

Caching files involves creating a new copy of the same files and too many files can end up having an effect opposite to speeding up your site. The plugin also regularly deletes the redundant copies of your site’s files.

For many more options with caching plugins and a review in greater depth about them, read our detailed WordPress caching plugin guide.

More info / Download

Contact Forms

A contact form is means of communication between the web admin and the reader or a potential investor or new business partner. Whilst people now tend to use Twitter and the other social media networks to get in touch, contact forms are still a very integral part of a website. It is especially important for business oriented, revenue generating websites.

Contact Form 7

Contact Form 7

A simple way to add Contact Forms. This plugin supports CAPTCHA and Akismet spam filtering, so your mailbox isn’t flood with spam. There is nothing much more to the plugin, it just functions and that’s all you’ll need to start out. And with this contact form people will be able to get in touch with you.

We use Contact Form 7 on Colorlib as well and a sample contact form can be found here. On top of basic contact form functionality we have file upload option that helps users to attach translation files, screenshots, documents and any other files that they might want to send.

More info / Download

Spam Handling

You’ll probably have a hundred spam comments before you actually have a meaningful comment on your website. Spam affects your site’s credibility and is a nuisance, it must be dealt with.

The problem with dealing with spam manually is the shear volume. You receive a hundred comments, could you sift through them all sorting spam from genuine comments ? Not without wasting a great deal of time and effort.

Akismet

akismet logo

The unofficial spam defender for all WordPress sites. It was created by the team behind WordPress itself, Automattic. A great plugin that protects your site from spam for free (unless you receive in excess of 50,000 comments a month).

Akismet spam protection stats

You need to get an API key from Akismet. And then enter the same API key into the plugin Akismet. The plugin works by scanning the content of comments and it filters comments out. Certain comments which detected as bonafide spam, are blocked. The filtered comments can be approved by the web admin.

More info / Download

Final Thoughts

I feel all the above plugins and the purposes they serve are necessary for every WordPress site out there. So if you are creating first WordPress site, I highly recommend you use a plugin for every specific function I’ve mentioned at the start of this article.

You can use the plugins mentioned here or search for alternate options, but the plugins mentioned here are the bare minimum any site needs.

If you need any help, drop a comment below. Either Aigars or I will be happy to assist you in any way we can!

Aigars Silkalns

Frontend web developer and web designer specialized in free and premium WordPress theme development. Started to learn to code 2 years ago and now I am familiar with CSS/HTML/JavaScript (jQuery) and PHP. Obsessed with application performance, user experience and simplicity.

This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. This post is useful for many who do not know which plugins are very essential for making a website. On the other hand selected plugins on this article are very effective and will be conducive to the dynamic websites. Thanks a lot for sharing such valuable plugins here.

    1. Jahir,

      You don’t need any plugins to make your website mobile friendly. Actually the less plugins you use the better will be your website’s performance and it will also make it more mobile friendly. The one thing you must do is to choose mobile-friendly (responsive) WordPress theme.

  2. great article. u guys are wonderful for giving out such insight to beginners like us. i want to build a marketplace website to sell ebooks. can you set up for me and wats the cost? thanks. Mr. Prince Dateme

  3. We use all of these plugins. They are an absolute must if you run a wordpress based site.
    Thanks for the useful information.

  4. Hello,

    I really like your presentation of your blog. Nice list of plugins of free WordPress plugins. I’ve been using the majority of them and they all have had a great impact on my site.

    Keep updating.

    Thank you.

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