Colorlib

A Beginner’s Guide to Essential (Free) WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins have a number of different purposes. WordPress is an easy-to-use, reasonably powerful content management system (CMS). A CMS is designed to act as a platform for every type of website, so it has to be a bit general in its approach. Assuming that you can code and add functions to your WordPress database, it still would be quite the hassle. Plugins have been created to solve this particular issue.

While plugins are not tailor-made for a particular website, there are many that cater to specific functions and prove useful to all WordPress websites irrespective of the business niche or the site type. Apart from that, there are niche-specific plugins as well.

Below are plugins that a WordPress site cannot do without.

What functions do must-have plugins cater to?

Security Plugins

Wordfence

Wordfence is an efficient website guard dog. It comes with a firewall, login security measures, and auto-scheduled scanning options. A cloud-powered system, the plugin scans your website (WP database and files) for changes, malicious scripts, or viruses.

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 or which may then cause your site to land up on the GSB.

The plugin has a basic options panel that can be used by all and an advanced options panel that allows for fine-tuning of 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 allow you to check 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 distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack 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 lookout for something specific in your website’s traffic.

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

More info / Download

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

Alternate security plugins:

These two plugins recommended as alternatives are not inferior to Wordfence. Check 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 if you intend to make your site into one in the near future, then know that time is money. If ever your site goes down for some reason, you’ll 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.

Here’s one more thing about backups you ought to know. If your 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

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

The list goes on.

You can select the backup interval according to your needs. It is best to back up 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 back up your site to more than one location, you’ll need to add the premium version, which costs $20.

UpdraftPlus helps back up your plugins, 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.

More info / Download

Search Engine Optimization

We receive a healthy chunk of our traffic from Google, so make sure that Google is your ally. A few simple tricks enabled by a plugin will help your site with SEO. Your site will not suffer in any way due to poor search engine optimization.

WordPress SEO

WordPress SEO is a great tool for search engine optimization. We use the same on ColorLib.

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

The plugin helps ensure that the 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, a title, and a meta description. In the page analysis at the bottom of your page/post editor, you can view the keyword density, the minimum word count recommendation, the ease of content readability, the 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, and 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 of merit is good. Now, we need to get the word out! Social sharing plugins make it possible for your readers to 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. Then, you need to ensure that social media buttons do not clutter and overcrowd your website.

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. Every time someone visits your site, requests go to a database that 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

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

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, so you must deal with it.

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 is a great plugin that protects your site from spam. You can get it for free unless you receive in excess of 50,000 comments a month. Automattic, the team behind WordPress, developed this unofficial spam defender for all WordPress sites.

You need to get an API key from Akismet. Enter the same API key into the Akismet plugin. The plugin scans and filters the comments, as well as blocks the ones detected as spam. The web admin can approve the filtered comments.

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!