As a special recurring series for this year of 2021, we will be highlighting 21 plugins we love. Follow along to learn more about these helpful WordPress plugins and discover how to make your site easier to manage, more user-friendly, more accessible, and more secure, all within the click of a button. Sound good? Well, let’s get started. Not sure how to add a plugin to your site? Well, we’ve got you covered. Check out our tutorial here.
And if you want to jump to a specific plugin without scrolling through the entire article, just click the plugin of interest below, and don’t forget to check back weekly for updates to our list!
- All-in-One WP Migration
- Contact Form 7
- Disable Comments
- Intuitive Custom Post Order
- Akismet Anti-Spam
- Broken Link Checker
- WP Accessibility
- Really Simple SSL
- CookieYes – GDPR Cookie Consent & Compliance Notice (CCPA Ready)
Over our years of working in the WordPress space, we have used dozens of tools to backup and migrate sites. After trying them all, we can confidently say that there is not a single backup and migration tool that is as easy to use and reliable as All-in-One WP migration.
With All-in-One WP migration, you can create a backup with one click and download it to your computer. You also have the option to save it to your cloud storage platform of choice (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.). Once you have your backup, you can use it to restore your site if something breaks. You can also use it to move your site to a new server.
So, all that said, if you aren’t making regular backups of your WordPress site, we highly recommend installing All-in-One WP migration today. We use this plugin to make a full backup of every site we manage ahead of making any updates or changes, and we highly recommend that you do the same. Peace of mind for the price of a few clicks feels like the ultimate bargain for us!
Another plugin that we install on almost every website that we manage, Yoast SEO by @yoast!
For those of you who don’t know, SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization,” and it is the art of getting your website to show up on Google. If you have ever tried to boost your ranking on Google, you likely know how hard it is to do.
Thankfully, if you have a WordPress site, Yoast gives you a set of tools (for free!) that make the art of ranking on Google easier. As an analogy, trying to rank on Google without Yoast could be compared to drawing free-hand. Ranking on Google with Yoast is like drawing with a stencil. It still takes work, but the help makes it much easier.
When you install Yoast, they automatically generate intricate “Site Maps” for you, which you can submit to Google through the Google Search Console. These maps help the robots in charge of ranking sites at Google discover your pages. Additionally, Yoast allows you to easily set your “Meta Title” and “Meta Description” so that you control how your listings on Google appear.
In addition to those basic functions, Yoast allows you to input keywords that you would like each page to rank for. Knowing your goal, Yoast then analyzes your content for SEO and readability and offers actionable improvements to help you meet that goal. To help you understand your SEO and readability analysis, Yoast gives you a green, yellow, or red dot for each post. Green means your content is good, yellow means ok, and red means “needs improvement.” We think that this system is the definition of user-friendly.
The above-mentioned features are the ones we most love Yoast for, but they do a whole lot more! They have a website full of great resources that help with using Yoast and improving SEO knowledge in a broader sense.
All this is to say, if you aren’t using an SEO plugin already, we would strongly recommend installing Yoast today!
Contact Form 7 is a perfect example of the power of WordPress. Using Contact Form 7 (aka CF7), you can build as many forms as you’d like and translate them into as many languages as you’d like. Beyond those mandatory basics, CF7 also supports spam filtering, which, if you have ever had a contact form on your website, you know should be a required feature.
Beyond the reliable core features of CF7, it was developed by a trusted member of the WordPress community and is 100% free to use. The choice to make this plugin free also means that there is no pressure to add unnecessary complexity to its core.
To offset the lack of features that some users who need complex forms may view as a drawback, Contact Form 7 makes a point to be highly extensible. Extensible means that CF7 can have its features‘ extended’ by other plugins.
An example of this extensibility comes when comparing CF7 to other form plugins. Other paid form plugins will store form submissions on your WordPress admin dashboard in addition to sending you an email containing the form submission. Contact Form 7 does not have a feature to store submissions built-in by default. Instead, you can easily install another plugin called ‘Flamingo’ that will store submissions for you. The same goes for about any other feature that you would want forms on your site to have.
All this is to say, if you need a free, reliable contact form solution for your site, we would strongly recommend installing Contact Form 7 today!
WooCommerce is such a robust platform that many people may not even realize it is a plugin.
False assumptions aside, the facts are the facts. WooCommerce, the world’s most popular e-commerce platform, is built on top of WordPress. With this fact comes the reality that for many of the same reasons that WordPress is great, WooCommerce is too.
Notably, we think WooCommerce is great because anyone with an existing WordPress site can install WooCommerce (for free) and start selling online in a matter of minutes. WooCommerce is so easy to get set up on for two main reasons. One is that many popular themes support it, allowing your store to look like the rest of your site. The other reason is that WooCommerce has one of the best setup wizards known to humanity. The wizard asks for a few critical pieces of information, and upon providing that, your store is ready to sell.
Aside from being easy to install, there are tons of great plugins that extend WooCommerce’s functionality. For example, WooCommerce Payments, the default payment gateway for WooCommerce, supports over 100 payment options like Stripe, PayPal, and Square. If you want to accept Bitcoin, however, WooCommerce Payments cannot help you. Fortunately, there are dozens of free plugins available that add this functionality to your store. The same is true for almost any other e-commerce feature you could imagine.
We also love WooCommerce because it is an open-source plugin for an open-source platform, meaning that you own your store, its content, and its data. This differs from other popular e-commerce platforms like Shopify that own every aspect of your store and effectively rents the store to you for as long as it exists. Shopify’s model works for many, and we even like their service, but the value of owning your store cannot be underestimated.
Smush has a funny name and lighthearted branding, but the job it does is serious. Image optimization.
You may be wondering, what is image optimization exactly, and why is it such serious business? Well, image optimization involves a few different things, but the result is faster loading pages. If pages on your site take longer than 3 seconds to load, then making your pages load faster is the most impactful thing you can do to improve your ranking on Google and increase your conversion rates on your site.
As stated in our list of reasons why we love the plugin, Smush helps your pages load faster through image optimization. How does it do this? Most importantly, it compresses the images on your site so that the files are smaller without a loss in image quality. While many things cause pages to load slowly, the biggest offender is large file sizes. When someone visits your site, they have to download all of the content on the page. If your images are large, uncompressed files (2-5 MB), downloading a page on your site could take the same amount of time as downloading an album from iTunes. Compressing them makes it more like downloading a single song.
Beyond making your page size smaller for faster page load times, Smush also has other tricks up its sleeve for optimizing images on your pages. Most notably, Smush has an easy to activate lazy loading feature. Lazy loading allows pages to load fully while only downloading and displaying the images that should be visible to the users. As users scroll down the page and new images come onto the screen, it loads them in then. This feature allows users to visit many pages on your site without every image on each page.
If you aren’t optimizing images on your site, today is a great day to start. You can probably shave seconds off your page load times with just 10 minutes of installation and setup time. The time you spend setting up Smush will be worth it, we promise.
Want to learn more about why site speed matters? Check out our blog post about the topic here.
This plugin goes on almost every single site that we install. We love it because it saves both us, and the people managing those sites a whole world of headache.
What is so great about Disable Comments? For starters, it is free and easy to install from the WordPress plugin directory. After installing the plugin, it is also easy to configure. All users need to do after installing is click the mouse three times and the plugin will disable all comments sitewide. While simple is good for some users, others would like more advanced options to customize where and how comments are disabled. This plugin also considers those users and offers a high level of specific configuration options.
Aside from being easy to use and install, we love this plugin for what it does, disable comments. Spam comments are incredibly common on WordPress and are both a nuisance and a small security vulnerability. Considering that many sites don’t post content that necessitates comments, disabling comments can make the site more secure and easier to manage without losing anything of value.
So, if you are running your business site on WordPress and don’t derive value from having open comments on your site, we would encourage you to install and activate this plugin today. Our first reel shows you how to do this in 30 seconds if you want to check that out.
This is yet another plugin that goes on almost every single site with a blog that we manage.
This plugin is useful if you want to arrange the posts on your blog in a specific order. By default, WordPress sorts posts reverse-chronologically with the newest posts listed first and the oldest last. If your blog exclusively covers current events, this sorting might be ideal because your newest posts would be the most relevant. If your blog is more general and some of your content is ‘evergreen’ (meaning that it will be relevant for a long time), you may want to list your best posts at the top of your feed. This is where Intuitive Custom Post Order comes in handy.
Using Intuitive Custom Post Order, you can simply drag and drop your posts into the order you want them from the WordPress Admin Dashboard. Whatever order they appear in on the Admin Dashboard will be the order they show up on your posts page. It really is that simple. There is no save button, no numbers to type in, and no shenanigans. All you have to do is drag, drop, and check the front end when you’re done.
One other note is that this plugin works with custom post types too! For example, on our site, we have posts, portfolio items, and how-to guides. We arrange all of these post types using this plugin to ensure that our most helpful guides and our best portfolio items are listed first on their respective landing pages.
Want to have a custom order for your posts too? As mentioned in our reasons why we love this plugin, you will be able to use this plugin without any configuration as soon as you install it, so we encourage you to give it a go!
This is yet another plugin that we use on a lot of our client’s sites. This plugin has also stood the test of time with over ten years in the WordPress plugin directory, maintaining a great reputation the whole time.
The main function of this plugin is to redirect URLs on your site. This makes it so that users of your site encounter fewer 404 errors. This also prevents Google from encountering the same errors, which can hurt your ranking. For example, if the URL of your About Us page, which ranks on Google, changes from xyz.com/about-us to xyz.com/about-our-asheville-based-team, Google won’t know that the page is the same but with just a different URL. This will cause you to lose your ranking for that page. If you redirect the URL, you will keep all of that search ju-ju while changing the URL.
Redirecting URLs for SEO purposes is the primary use case for this plugin. With that, some SEO plugins offer this functionality as a part of their plugin. This means that if you use a premium SEO plugin like Yoast Premium from @Yoast or Smartcrawl Pro from @wpmu_dev, you probably don’t need this plugin.
Outside of the SEO benefits for using this plugin is a feature offered by Redirection called conditional redirects. You can use this feature to redirect specific URLs based on browser type, cookies, link referrer, or any other custom rule you may want to create. You can also use Redirection to add custom HTTP headers to pages that you are redirecting. This reduces the performance and security impacts of the redirect.
In conclusion, if you aren’t already using something to redirect URLs on your website, there is a 100% chance that your site stands to benefit by installing this plugin. You can simply set it up, let the 404 log build up for a week, and then start redirecting common 404 URLs to the pages that you want your visitors to see.
This is a tried and true way to minimize spam on any WordPress site, and for this, we install it on almost every site we build or manage.
Akismet is developed by Automattic, a company owned by the creator of WordPress. The purpose of this plugin is to block spam comments and form submissions automatically. Blocking spam has many benefits, from alleviating annoyance to keeping your users safe and even staying out of trouble with Google. Because of this, Akismet is massively helpful and comes highly recommended by not just us but the whole WordPress community.
The one part that can seem overwhelming in the setup is that you have to register for an account and get a free API key to use the plugin. Have no fear though, signing up for an account is easy, and Akismet provides clear instructions on what to copy and where to paste it.
Once you sign up for an account and paste your free API key into the right box within the Akismet plugin, there is no further configuration required! Akismet will start working right away by cross-referencing all comments and form submissions with a global spam database. If the comment or submission has already been ruled as spam, Akismet will block it from you or your users. Don’t worry though, if you don’t trust the automated process, you can always go back and check blocked content to make sure that it is indeed spam. Usually, though, Akismet does a good job and only blocks spam comments and submissions.
In conclusion, if you aren’t using some other form of spam protection already, we would highly recommend installing this plugin today. Five minutes of install and setup will save you hours of headache in the long term.
You can probably guess what this plugin does from its title, but to paraphrase, this plugin checks your site for broken links. This plugin also compiles a list of all of those broken links in one easy-to-read table. Within the table of broken links, you get a few pieces of information about each broken link. For each broken link, the link is listed, along with the link text, an explanation of how the link is broken (404, timeout error, redirect error, etc.), and the page or post containing the broken link. In addition to a nice data readout, you can also edit broken links directly from this table.
You may be wondering, why should you care about broken links on your website? Well, first and foremost, they are probably there for a reason. You added the links to provide information to your users, thus for the sake of your users and the goals you have for your website, you should fix those links.
In addition to being helpful for user experience, it’s a good idea to fix broken links for Google’s sake. As a part of the process that Google uses to rank sites, they use a robot to crawl your site. To crawl your site most efficiently, this robot follows all of the links that it finds. Having lots of good internal links (links that point to other pages on your site) helps Google discover pages and then rank them. If those links are broken, Google won’t be able to do this, and it will hurt the overall ranking of your website.
So, how many broken links do you have on your website? If you cannot confidently say zero, we would highly recommend installing this plugin and checking. Once you know which links are broken, you can quickly and easily fix them using Broken Link Checker.
Jetpack is a multi-functional plugin developed by Automattic, the company behind wordpress.com, owned by Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress. It may go without saying that this plugin is the type of high-quality software that you might expect from such a prolific company in the WordPress space. While we don’t use Jetpack ourselves, we highly recommend it to anyone who manages their own WordPress site. This is because Jetpack is a one-stop shop for all the most important features that aren’t included in WordPress core.
You may be wondering, what does Jetpack do? While its feature list is too extensive to cover fully in this post, we will name our favorite features. Most critically, Jetpack helps improve site speed and security. To help with site speed, Jetpack serves images and other static files from a CDN helping you lazy-load images and offering the option to integrate with Google’s AMP feature. In the security department, Jetpack offers a backup feature, malware scanning, spam blocking, and login area protection. If you read our posts regularly, you will know that almost all of the speed/security features mentioned above come highly recommended to all WordPress users.
Other nice features provided by Jetpack include easy to understand analytics information, the option to auto-publish new content to social media, and no-code tools to improve the design and functionality of your website. That short list only scratches the surface!
All this is to say, if you don’t know where to start in regards to adding lots of features to your website, along with ensuring that you are following the recommended best speed and security practices, look no further than Jetpack! The plugin is free, the setup is easy, and the features are abundant.
When a page builder is a right fit, there is only one we ever use, and that is Elementor. We do have a strong bias towards building sites without page builders when possible, but sometimes a page builder is the right tool for the job.
How did Elementor become our favorite page builder? We tried it because of its popularity. With over 100 million downloads, Elementor is hands down the most popular page builder. The wisdom of the crowd suggests that this means it is the best. Beyond its popularity, we also tried all of its top competitors including Divi, Avada, Beaver Builder, and none of them matched up to Elementor on any front.
What makes Elementor so much better than the competition? At the top of our list is user experience. With a page builder, you have a lot of tools at your disposal. To make use of those tools, they need to be accessible and well organized. With Divi or Avada for example, a lot of googling is required to accomplish basic tasks. With Elementor, the layout and organization of their tools are such that they are intuitive to use and allow basic tasks to be accomplished with little prior knowledge. Easy-to-use tools combined with quick rendering pages in the editor view make it relaxing and efficient to build pages in Elementor.
Beyond user experience, we are amazed at the high-quality pages that Elementor helps you build and that such quality is available for free! Unlike other page builders, the pages that Elemetor produces are not excessively bloated and thus load quickly. Beyond that, there are over 40 elements available to free users along with professional-grade design features. According to Elementor, these features include Box Shadows, Background Overlays, Hover Effects, Headline Effects, Animations, Shape Dividers, Gradient Backgrounds, and much more.
All that said, if you don’t write code, but you have some design changes that you would like to make to your site, we highly recommend starting with Elementor.
13. WP Accessibility
One of the most important plugins that we recommend is WP Accessibility. We think that making your website more accessible to users with disabilities is the morally right thing to do, and, objectively, increasing accessibility can keep you out of legal trouble. The challenge is that improving accessibility can be a cumbersome task. However, WP Accessibility makes this task easy, for free!
We think it is important to talk about web accessibility, what it is, and why it matters. Web accessibility is the ability for people with a variety of disabilities to use the web. This includes making the web usable for people with vision impairments, hearing impairments, and motor impairments, among other things. Web accessibility is a generally good thing to do, and you can also face massive lawsuits under the ADA act if your website is not accessible.
When considering how to make the web more accessible, there is a standard called WCAG, which outlines varying tiers of accessibility requirements. To avoid legal trouble and also to make your site usable for people with a variety of disabilities, the requirement to meet is known as WCAG 2.0 AA. We would recommend Googling that.
This list of requirements brings us back to the WP Accessibility plugin and why we love it. While web accessibility can be subjective and cannot happen 100% automatically, this plugin does what it can to automatically add accessibility improvements. Examples of accessibility improvements that this plugin includes are the addition of skip-to-content links, outline-focused elements, and labels to WordPress form fields (search, comments).
For pieces of accessibility that cannot be done automatically, this plugin offers tools to recommend actions. This includes highlighting images that need alt-text and pointing out which colors don’t meet minimum contrast requirements. You or a developer can then use these recommendations to make theme changes to boost your accessibility.
GiveWP is a donation plugin that allows nonprofits to easily accept donations on their website, for free.
While there are countless ways that donations can be accepted on a WordPress site, we love this plugin for its simplicity. After installing the free version of this plugin, getting it up and running takes less than 10 minutes. To do so, one simply has to input some basic information about their organization, connect to a payment processor like Stripe or PayPal. Click a few boxes determining what information needs to be collected on the donation form, and then donations can be accepted immediately!
From a donor’s perspective, Give makes the process seamless. Donors simply input their information into the form, press the “donate” button, and their donation will be processed. After donating, they are redirected to a page containing a receipt for their donation (along with past donations if applicable) and are emailed a receipt. Give can also be configured to send out thank you messages upon receiving donations as well. We think the ability to easily donate, but also easily retrieve information about donations for tax purposes is what makes Give so great for donors.
From the perspective of site administrators, or even accountants, we love how easy it is to gather reports and information about donations and donors within the Give admin dashboard. Administrators can easily generate reports about total donations received in a given time period. Give also allows for easy donor management with the ability to track a donor and their donation history. There is even the ability to make notes about donors in the dashboard to ensure that key information is easily accessible.
All-in-all, we love Give and would recommend it to anyone who wants to start accepting donations on their website. We also would recommend their premium and paid add-ons to users who desire more advanced features.
Defender is an all-in-one security plugin that protects your WordPress site against malware and hacks. After trying out several different security plugins, we can confidently say that Defender is the best free security plugin out there, and this is the one we use on all of our client sites.
We speak on the importance of cybersecurity a lot, so we won’t go too deep into it here. That said, hopefully, it is obvious that a hack or malware infection on your site is nothing you want. It is also worth noting that if you don’t take steps to actively prevent hackers from infecting your site, you are low-hanging fruit to them and are at risk of a hack. This is where Defender comes in to keep you safe from bad actors who want to do your site harm.
Defender helps protect your site in three primary ways. These three ways are one-click security recommendations, login protection, and malware scanning.
Upon installing Defender, they will provide 5-10 actionable security recommendations such as disabling the file editor, preventing PHP execution, and security key updating. All you have to do is click yes, and Defender will do these things to make your site safer. Defender also offers login protection through various methods. These include login lockouts after too many incorrect password attempts, a firewall to ban seemingly malicious IP addresses, and optional 2-factor authentication to log in.
Protecting your login area, along with actioning security recommendations, should keep you fully protected from malware. That said, it’s always good to know if your protection is working. This is where Defender’s security scanning comes in handy. Using this feature, you can scan all of the code on your site to make sure no malicious code is present. If malicious code is found, you can revert any infected files to their uninfected state in one click!
So, that’s Defender! If you aren’t using a security plugin on your site, we would highly recommend installing and activating Defender today!
We love this plugin because it makes the process of getting your WordPress site fully HTTPS secure as easy as possible. Because every site should be HTTPS secure, but it isn’t always as straightforward as it should be, this plugin comes in handy often.
Really Simple SSL automatically detects your settings and configures your website to run HTTPS over HTTP. Why is this important, and what is HTTP anyways? HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and it is what transfers data over a network. HTTPS, as opposed to HTTP, encrypts the data so that when the information is transferred, it is kept safe and secure from third parties and bad actors. The “S” at the end stands for, you guessed it, Secure! HTTPS is vital for any website that conducts credit card transactions or requires a login. And regardless of what your site is used for, seeing that your site is insecure in the URL can throw up a red flag for visitors, causing them to exit your site.
The first step to making data transfer secure on your website is to obtain an SSL certificate. An SSL certificate binds the site’s information and details with a cryptographic key, keeping information safe. Another important thing to note is that without an SSL certificate, your site cannot rank on Google (yikes). While this plugin doesn’t provide an SSL certificate, once you acquire it (which can be done by contacting your hosting provider or going to this link: https://really-simple-ssl.com/knowledge-base/installing-an-ssl-certificate/) this plugin automatically detects your settings and configures your website to run over HTTPS, saving you hours of work.
With an SSL certificate and this plugin installed, you can put your feet up and know that this very important piece of your website is taken care of. Really simple.
Now that you know how important it is to have your website running over HTTPS and how simple the switch is, why wait? If you’re still using HTTP, we would recommend making the switch now!
Cookie Notice & Compliance for GDPR / CCPA is number 17 of 21 plugins that we love in 2021. We love this plugin because it helps your website comply with cookie consent requirements under the EU GDPR cookie law and CCPA regulations, among others.
Before going into the specifics, it is worth mentioning the two most famous cookie laws which are the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act). The GDPR applies to websites that have European visitors, and the CCPA applies to websites that have visitors from California. It is important to emphasize that these laws apply to everyone with visitors in these locations, not just to sites based in those jurisdictions. Failure to comply can result in fines of $2500 per visitor, per visit, so it’s worth it to comply with these regulations.
So, do you know that annoying banner that pops up whenever you enter a website asking if it’s okay to collect cookies? These notices make websites compliant with these laws. Regardless of whether you like these or not, you should have one, and this plugin is an easy way to add one to your site and avoid getting sued.
Wanna follow along on our 21 plugins journey! Check out our Instagram @web_dev_avl for new posts every week!
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