Last time we learned how to start your own blog by registering a domain name, signing with a web host and installing a content management system (WordPress).
Now we need to configure your WordPress installation so when you start publishing content, you’ll maximise your efforts in terms of search engine visibility.
WordPress is a very versatile and highly customisable platform. One of the reasons for it’s versatility are plugins. Plugins extend the functionality and usability of an already amazing platform even further.
If you start looking online for which plugins you need to install on your new blog, you will be blown away by the vast amount of recommendations.
The truth is that all those articles are worthless, because of three simple things: they overwhelm, more plugins mean longer loading times for your website, more plugins provide more vulnerability options for hackers.
Trust me, my websites have been hacked multiple times and restoring everything from scratch is not a fun task at all.
Below are the most essential plugins you actually need to start blogging, categorised, with options.
Note: WordPress plugins can be installed via admin dashboard. Go to ‘Plugins’, click ‘Add New’, use the search feature to find what you need, click ‘Install’. Don’t forget to activate the plugin afterwards.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
When it comes to search engine optimisation, WordPress is not really that good out of the box. That’s why you need third party plugins to make your website more visible in search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing.
Currently, there are two popular plugins for SEO. You can use them for free. There are also paid options, but it’s too early for that. In fact, I’ve always used the free version and never had any problems, or reasons to upgrade.
1. All in One SEO
AIOSEO is what I started using since I learned about WordPress. This is an easy to understand SEO plugin, which has all the basic stuff you need and then some. It may not be the ‘best’ plugin, but it’s what I use and highly recommend beginners start with it as well.
2. Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is a SEO plugin for more advanced users. With its’ many features it takes quite some time to figure everything out. I also don’t really like their user interface. However, that doesn’t mean that the plugin is bad. It’s a very powerful plugin, and complexity shouldn’t stop you from giving it a try.
Another important factor in SEO is how fast your web page loads. The slower your website is the more likely you’ll be penalised by search engines.
You can potentially lose clients if your website takes too long to load, and that can cost your business a lot of money. Here’s an infographic by KISSmetrics that illustrates perfectly how loading times affect user experience.
WordPress is a complicated and large system, with many layers, which are constantly being loaded. That’s why your website may be slow. That’s usually fixed using a caching plugin.
Basically, such plugins pre-load everything for the user upfront, so it requires less time and computing power. That results in massive boost to loading times.
1. W3 Total Cache
If you’re using A2 Hosting like me, then W3 Total Cache will be already pre-installed. It’s a really nice free plugin, great for beginners and advanced users. Here’s an example of how it impacts this website using GTmetrix.
As you can see the difference is quite significant. There’s no reason to not use a caching plugin for WordPress, especially when most of them are free.
2. WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache is another great free option for improving your website’s speed. I haven’t personally tried it, because I’ve been using W3 for many years without any problems.
There are plenty of people praising this plugin as well, so it’s definitely a viable option, if you don’t like W3 for some reason. It doesn’t have as many features as W3, does so it maybe better for inexperienced users.
3. WP Rocket
WP Rocket is a premium caching plugin and is best used for inexperienced webmasters, because of its’ intuitive user interface. According to these benchmarking tests, WP Rocket was the fastest caching plugin for WordPress.
With a one time installation fee of $39 per website this may be the best ‘bang for your buck’, if you’re looking to spend money on speeding up your website. So it’s up to you what to use.
Comment and spam management
Spam is a nasty and unpleasant reality of today’s bloggers. You’ll get a lot of it. Going through it manually is a waste of time. That’s why there are plugins designed to combat spam, both free and paid.
Akismet is my top choice, simply because it comes pre-installed with WordPress, and it’s free for non-commercial websites. You can choose how much you would like to pay for it. Tip, choose $0 and it’s going to be free, until you start earning revenue and will be able to upgrade. So far it does the job really well.
WP-SpamShield is another good option if you’re not happy with Akismet. It’s especially good if you don’t like to add captchas , or challenge questions for your visitors. Bot’s usually ignore them, but your visitors may be frustrated by them.
You need a contact page. Maybe not now, but definitely in the near future. Contact forms are one of the best ways to receive feedback from your readers. Creating a contact form from scratch is a very difficult task if you’re not familiar with web code. Fortunately, there are plugins that make this task a breeze.
1. Contact Form 7
Contact Form 7 is a simple plugin for creating contact forms. Exactly the same I used for my contact page. Nothing fancy, but gets the job done. There’s captcha and Akismet support for fighting off unwanted spam.
WPForm is a another simple and beautiful contact form builder. You can easily drag-and-drop the necessary fields, or use pre-build templates. The free version is not as feature packed as the paid one, but it will do the job for most websites.
3. Fast Secure Contact Form
Fast Secure Contact Form is my third pick if you need to create and manage simple contact forms. There are plenty of options in terms of customisation and spam protection.
Google XML Sitemap
The final plugin that is absolutely essential to a new WordPress installation is called Google XML sitemap. It creates an easy to understand map of your, which greatly helps web crawlers and bots in indexing your website properly. Therefore, you’ll get higher rankings in search results for literally no effort.
Like I mentioned before, these are the 5 most essential plugins that, in my opinion, should be on every WordPress installation. Of course, you may have different requirements, and plugins you use may not be mentioned here.
Feel free to tell me which plugins you can’t live without in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be able to discover something new and useful.