How do you choose the right plugins for your WordPress site? I thought it would be helpful if I share the core plugins I install every time I install WordPress (and why I chose them).
The first plugin I install is for backing up the site. There are loads of excellent choices for backup plugins, depending on your needs.
I like WP-DB Manager. It doesn’t back up automatically to a cloud account, but for me, other features more than make up for that shortcoming.
With over 100,000 active installs and a 4-1/2 star rating, it’s a solid plugin from a developer with a good reputation. (He’s developed 25 plugins to date.)
After you install and activate it, you’ll see a new menu in your Dashboard.
Click to expand the menu, and you’ll see this.
- Use Backup DB to create an immediate backup.
- Manage Backup DB is where you delete old backups, or choose a backup to download or email.
- Optimize DB and Repair DB let you quickly clean up your database.
- Empty/Drop Tables lets you remove or delete from the database. Don’t use this unless you know what you’re doing, and have a current backup to restore from in case you make a mistake! You can really mess up your WordPress installation if you goof up here.
- Run SQL Query is another to be careful with. Only use this if you know what you’re doing with mySQL.
- DB Options is where you set up the schedule of regular backups, and tell the plugin how many backups to keep and where to keep them. Frequency of backups will depend on how active your site is.
Although it doesn’t upload backup files directly to the cloud, I like it because I can run those database tasks like repair, optimize, and query, directly from WordPress.
If you don’t need that functionality, choose either of these:
- BackWPUp will upload your backup files to a selection of cloud accounts including Dropbox, Google Drive, S3, and RackSpace Cloud.
- Updraft Plus also backs up to the cloud, and the Pro version lets you back up to even more types of cloud accounts.
Either is a safe choice if you want your backups to be completely automated.
All in One WP Security & Firewall
Once you install and activate it, you’ll see this new menu.
Click to expand and see all your menu options, and see this article for a step-by-step tutorial.
I like this plugin because it seems more intuitive to me than some of the others, but if it doesn’t speak to you, try:
WPForms is an excellent contact form builder, and it’s super easy to use. Use it to create the form on your Contact Us page, as well as more complicated forms.
This form builder has over 900,000 active installs, and a five-star rating in the WordPress repository.
Install it the way you would any other plugin, by opening your WordPress Dashboard and navigating to Plugins / Add new.
In the search box, search for WPForms, then click Install and Activate or, if you downloaded it to your computer, click Upload and select the file from your hard drive.
As soon as you activate WPForms, you’ll see the option to play a short instructional video. It’s worth the two-minute time investment, as it walks you through how to create a contact form.
Ready to create your first form? Click the big orange Create Your First Form button that pops up when the video finishes, or select Add New from the WPForms menu you now see on your Dashboard.
Creating a contact form is super simple.
- Name your form
- Select your template (use the Simple Contact Form)
Editing and rearranging form fields couldn’t be easier – just drag and drop!
This is one of the easiest form builders I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in power.
Most bloggers and freelancers will find that the free version meets their needs perfectly. If you need more, though, there are three premium plans available.
The Basic plan is $39/year, and integrates your forms with Constant Contact. However, if you use Mailchimp, Aweber, or GetResponse as your email service, look at the Plus plan for $99. If your business requires e-signatures, or if you want payment options integrated into your forms, you’re looking at the Pro plan at $199 annually. Currently, if you upgrade from the Lite (free) plan, they’re offering a 20% discount.
Other popular contact forms include Ninja Forms and Contact Form 7. While Contact Form 7 is the most popular form builder for WordPress, with over 3 million installs, I feel it’s overly complicated for the user.
The next plugin I install is Yoast SEO. SEO is vital if you want your site found, and Yoast is the pre-eminant plugin to help you optimize for search. It’s exceedingly popular, with over 3 million active installs and a 5-star rating.
Yoast SEO adds a new menu to your WordPress Dashboard.
When you first activate the plugin, you’ll see a simplified menu.
However, there’s lots more available to you once you know where to find it.
After you complete the steps in the Setup Wizard, which automatically displays once you activate the plugin, navigate to the SEO Dashboard, then click the Features tab. Scroll down to Advanced Settings page, and select Enabled. (Remember to scroll down to the bottom and save your changes.)
Voila! An expanded menu!
Yoast SEO can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to letting Google and the other search engines know about your site. It can:
- Connect directly with Google Search Console
- Create and maintain Sitemaps
You can also use the Social features to provide default images that will be shared on Facebook and Twitter when your readers share content, and link to Instagram, LinkedIn, MySpace, Pinterest, YouTube, and Google Plus in addition.
Once you’ve completed the initial setup, you’ll spend most of your SEO time enhancing your on-page SEO. That means, you can easily optimize every post and every page for better search results, and Yoast will guide you.
The only other SEO plugin that’s a real contender against Yoast is All in One SEO Pack. It’s also very popular, with over 3 million installs, and has a 4-1/2 star rating. They provide similar (but not identical) functionality. The main difference, from a user perspective, is the way they lay out settings pages, and the way they present choices and options. Whether you prefer one over the other really boils down to a personal preference.
After installing the above plugins, my plugin choices vary from site to site. There are still some common types of plugins you’ll probably want.
Social Share and Follow
If I’m using a StudioPress theme, my go-to social media plugins include Genesis Simple Share and Simple Social Icons. The first encourages readers to share your content, the second to follow your social media accounts. Both were created to work smoothly with StudioPress themes, and have a light footprint so they won’t slow down page load times.
With an Elegant Themes site, I’d look at the Monarch Social Sharing plugin. It includes both social follow and social sharing, and was designed to work with the company’s themes. (It will work with any WordPress theme.) The plugin isn’t free, but it is included in your annual Elegant Themes subscription.
Among third-party providers, Social Warfare provides an excellent social sharing plugin which becomes even more excellent when you upgrade to the Pro version. (I use Social Warfare Pro on this site.)
If you’re selling digital or physical goods, WooCommerce is the go-to WordPress plugin.
So there you have it — my list of go-to plugins for every WordPress site. I hope it helps you to choose the right plugins for your site as well.
Want to know more about plugins? Here are some articles of interest: