Matthew Hooper helps people, small businesses and individuals build an internet presence. Don’t forget to get his free report, “A Beginner’s Guide To Building An Internet Presence”. He has also just launched a step-by-step video training course called “The WordPress Course” so that you can learn WordPress in a single weekend.
As WordPress users we are fortunate enough to have tens-of-thousands of plugins at our disposals which help us to customize our WordPress blogs and websites. Since there is a countless amount of plugins out there, it is sometimes hard for us to figure out which plugins are worth testing out and which ones are better left in the WordPress plugin ether.
Below is a list of free WordPress plugins that I often install on my sites or on websites that I build for other people. These are also the first plugins that I recommend to people that I teach to build WordPress websites.
The Maintenance Mode plugin adds a landing page to your website that will be seen by all visitors that are not logged in. You can customize the landing page, use one of the basic templates or use the default countdown page.
You can do some maintenance on your site, rearrange sidebar widgets, or anything else for that matter, without visitors seeing a website that is in an unfinished state.
Theme Test Drive
Theme Test Drive will let you test out different themes on your website without actually having to make the theme the active theme on your website.
As a logged in user you will be able to see what a theme looks like on your website while your visitors will still see your regular theme.
Simple 301 Redirects
Sometimes when we make changes to the URLs of the pages or posts on our websites we forget that the URL is what people link to. Whenever we make changes to these URLs, the URLs become broken links and the people that follow those links get the dreaded 404 error.
If you’ve found that you made this mistake, then this plugin you can easily add a redirect that will be useful to your future visitors and to Google.
Tweet Old Post
If you’re someone that posts everyday then you probably see constant streams of traffic to your website from Twitter. If you’re like me, every time you create a new post on your site, you post a link on Twitter. On those days you probably see a lot of traffic from Twitter.
Tweet Old Post will randomly tweet a post from your archives to Twitter automatically. The interval can be set to whatever suits your needs.
W3 Total Cache
The great thing about WordPress is that it is dynamically generated from a database. Unfortunately, this can also make WordPress very slow. The best way to improve the speed of your WordPress website is through caching.
W3 Total Cache creates a cache of the pages on your website so that your sever doesn’t need to create them every time a new visitor comes to your website. There’s a lot more to this plugin but that’s the one sentence summation. Additionally, there are a lot of caching plugins out there but based on my experience through testing and general use, I’ve seen the best performance with W3 Total Cache.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is something that too many people get hung up on when they are just starting out, especially when they should just be focusing on creating the content on their websites. However, this becomes one of those “chicken or the egg” situations. I usually suggest to people that they focus on content but keep SEO in mind. This means that there are certain steps that you should follow while setting up your site but you will only see the benefits after you have been creating content. At this point, it’s often very difficult to go back and correct it.
That said, the WordPress SEO plugin from Yoast is one of the best SEO plugins that I have seen. Again, this is one of those types of plugins where there is a ton of similar plugins out there. I use and recommend this plugin since I really like the features it boasts and it works best for me.
The WP Smush.it plugin is a plugin that will optimize your images for the web as you upload them through the WordPress media manager. You don’t have to do anything different than you usually do but the images on your website will load faster. You can also go back and “smush” your existing images. Remember, visitors often leave sites that take too long to load.
WP to Twitter
WP to Twitter does one thing and does it well. Every time a new post goes live to your website, it automatically gets posted to Twitter. This means that if you ever forget to post links to Twitter, or if you schedule posts on your site, then you will never have to remember to post the links to Twitter again.
A fantastic way of getting new visitors to your website is through social networking sites. Digg Digg adds social sharing buttons to your site for as many of the more popular social networking sites as you want. It’s easy to go overboard with sharing buttons so try to keep it below half-a-dozen.
There is a saying that goes something along the lines of, “there are people who have lost data and there are people that will.” As someone that has lost data in the past, I see the importance of backing up everything. The BackWPup plugin makes it easy to schedule and create offsite backups which will hopefully ensure that you never lose data from your website. By offsite, I mean off of your website’s server. This is a precaution against hacking or even against server problems.
There are a lot of commercial plugins that will do this but this is the best free plugin that I have come across. I get my databases emailed to me on a weekly basis and I get full backups of my sites sent to my Dropbox account every month.
After Post Content Box
This is a plugin that I had created in order to scratch my own itch. I wanted a simple way to add content that will appear after every post but only on the single post pages.
You can add an email opt-in box after posts regardless of the theme or blog configuration without having to touch the code every time you wanted to make a change. The After Post Content Box plugin will let you manage this content.
WordPress has a great system for uploading images and automatically creating thumbnails. However, if you just click on a thumbnail, you are taken to the full size image but that’s it. Lightbox Plus creates a great looking lightbox that appears over your website content and allows your users to flip through the other images within that post or page.
I prefer this lightbox plugin to others that are out there since it gives the best results on smaller screens and mobile devices. Plus this particular plugin also has some preset lightbox styles that look really slick.
That’s All (for now) Folks!
As I said at the beginning, there are a pile of plugins out there and they do a lot of different things. These plugins can add a lot of functionality to your website but if you add too many, it can also slow your website down. Weigh-out the pros and the cons of each plugin and customize WordPress to suit your needs.
One last thing, all of the plugins above are free and I use them on sites I do for myself and for others. This means that I am confident in recommending them to you.
What are some of your favourite plugins? What are some duds that you want to save us the hassle of ever messing with?