Essential Wordpress Plugins
Max Felner

There’s an entire universe of plugins available for WordPress.

Some of them are goofy – want to put the lyrics to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” on an infinite scroll in the upper right-hand corner of your admin dashboard? There’s a plugin for that! Plenty more are sub-professional with a questionable code base and dodgy support.

Read More: Choosing The Right WordPress Theme & Plugins

But some are truly gems – they’ll supercharge the flexibility of your site and give you options to improve how your site functions, how you interact with your users, and how you keep track of the important bits of your site’s function.

If you’re trying to build a quality site, here’s our list of the five plugins we’d recommend you start with from the very beginning.

1

Yoast SEO

Yoast is sort of a grand-daddy plugin. It’s well known, widely used, and effective.

Yoast simplifies the process of on-page search engine optimization – making sure that your keyword targeting is correct, your readability is appropriate, and your content isn’t duplicating things you’ve already written about.

The baseline features in Yoast let you adjust your text to avoid keyword stuffing, write your own targeted meta snippets for display in search engine results, and preview your page appearance in Google, Facebook, and Twitter

If you want to go deeper, Yoast can keep up. It boasts a fully integrated schema.org data schedule to make sure that sites like Google and Pinterest know exactly what your site and pages are about. It will also auto-manage your robots.txt and .htaccess files and even generate crawl-able xml sitemaps for search engines to easily find and index all of your content.

If you pay for the pro version, Yoast will even suggest internal linking ideas and help you manage redirects if you move pages around.

Yoast is as easy or complex as you want it to be. When you’re first starting out you can just fill out the fields it asks for and leave the complex management to happen in the background. As you advance and want more granular control over things, Yoast will let you step in and adjust things according to your specifications.

There’s a free version that provides about 80% of the total available functionality and a paid version that gives you fanciness and access to top notch support.

Read More: The Cool Stuff Yoast Can Do

2

Akismet Anti-Spam

Boy, if Yoast is a grand-daddy plugin, I have no idea what to call Akismet – which is even more grand-daddy-ish than Yoast. Akismet has been around since the beginning and is an official plugin within the WordPress core.

Akismet has only one goal – to rid your site of comment spam. And it’s strikingly effective. So effective that your primary concern will probably end up being the rescue of legitimate comments from the Spam queue rather than removing spam from your comment stream.

The Akismet plugin is a member of a small group of plugins that truly are non-negotiable for your site. Luckily, it comes bundled into most WordPress installations and using it is as simple as activating it from your WordPress plugin dashboard and then plugging in your API key.

Akismet is pseudo-free for personal users (you can name your own monthly price, which can be $0) but there’s a $5/month fee for business and professional users.

Read More: Akismet Plans & Pricing

3

Gravity Forms

Forms are the key component that enables you to turn your site into more than just a one way street of information. In order to collect information from your readers, you’re going to use some variation of a basic form. But form functionality is not a core ability of WordPress itself, so enabling forms requires a third party plugin – and there’s no shortage of options.

Gravity Forms is the clear winner in the form-plugin space and lets you quickly build forms of varying complexity with just a few easy clicks.

Everyone is familiar with the idea of a contact form or feedback form, but the abilities of forms go far beyond these basic implementations. You can use forms to enable member-only site functions, auto-post user submitted content, display custom content types to different readers, and way, way more.

Gravity Forms beats other (also good) form plugins because of it’s ease-of-use, robust integrations with other services, and competitive price point. For more advanced users, the Gravity Forms shortcode system and custom CSS class abilities allow clean, seamless integration into your layout and workflow.

Video Guide: Getting Started with Gravity Forms
Read More: Some Great Form Plugins for WordPress

4

ConvertKit

This one is a relative newcomer to our core group of must-have addons.

For a long time we used a combination of MailChimp & ThriveLeads to display email signup forms and manage our email subscribers. In fact, if you poke around the site you can find several long discussions about how to set things up with MailChimp and how to integrate MailChimp into your WordPress workflow.

But, after a lot of careful consideration, we jumped ship from MailChimp and moved our whole operation over to ConvertKit. Why? Because it’s better.

Video Guide: ConvertKit for Beginners – A Complete Walkthrough

Building forms is easier. Staying focused on the things that actually work is easier. Organizing subscribers is easier. Creating complex and subtle automations is way (way) easier. Overall, there’s nothing in our workflow that worked better with MailChimp and several important things that work much better in ConvertKit.

Read More: ConvertKit Explained – Everything You Could Ever Want to Know About Using and Loving ConvertKit

Since switching, the amount of time it takes to administrate our various mailing lists has gone down by about 40%. In that same time both our reader-to-subscriber conversion ratio and our subscriber-to-customer conversion ratio have gone up.

We’ve been very happy.

While ConvertKit is a standalone service (starts at about $20/mo), they’ve been refining their own WordPress plugin for several years. You need the plugin in order to enable shortcode embedding of your signup forms, but the plugin can do much more than that.

You can use ConvertKit’s WordPress plugin to display custom content that’s tailored to specific readers, to tag subscribers based on their interests, to identify which parts of your site are the most beneficial for conversions, and all kinds of other cool stuff.

It’s a robust plugin, and integrates seamlessly with the core ConvertKit service itself.

Read More: The Big ConvertKit Review (Seriously, it’s Big)
Read More: ConvertKit Pricing Explained

5

ThirstyAffiliates

Affiliate marketing is one of the core monetization strategies for blogs and sites across all kinds of different niches. The idea of affiliate marketing is simple – if you send the maker of a product or service new customers, they’ll give you a commission on any purchases those customers make.

Like all things, though, the specifics of affiliate marketing are much more complicated than that. Assuming you’re not some shady low-life scammer, finding the right types of products to recommend to your audience is a matter of great importance. It’s very hard to find things that are high quality, fit well with your audience, and produce consistently good conversion ratios. Very hard.

On this site, we only do affiliate relationships with things that we actually use ourselves in the normal course of doing business. And even then, only some of those things actually make it into our affiliate roster.

Even with this high bar, we still have enough affiliate relationships that it takes some work to keep everything straight.

That’s where ThirstyAffiliates comes in. It’s the single best affiliate management plugin in existence. For real.

There’s so much ThirstyAffiliates can do – it stores all of your affiliate information, cleans up your affiliate links into not-ugly-or-ridiculous forms, keeps track of click statistics, and can even do things like associate a keyword/keyphrase with a specific affiliate program and auto-link that word or phrase to it’s associated affiliate link.

It will email you when you reach click goals, it will track conversion stats for different anchor text variations, and it will continually check the health of your affiliate links to make sure nothing is broken.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that we use this plugin multiple times a day to manage our affiliate relationships. Bottom line: There’s nothing that can beat it.

Check It Out for Yourself: ThirstyAffiliates

6

Honorable Mention: Monster Insights

One of the things that’s a real pain in the butt about WordPress is the lack of easy access to the actual HTML code for each page.

Why?

All kinds of services now require you to “verify” your site by placing custom snippets of code into the header, body, or footer of your HTML so they can check that you’re actually the site owner.

Want to run ads? Use Google Analytics?

Yup, that’s more custom code you’ll need to insert in order to get everything running correctly.

MonsterInsights gets an honorable mention because it rolls two important functions into one easy-to-use plugin. The main point of this plugin is to be an in-dashboard interface for your Google Analytics account. I’ve been an Analytics user for a very long time, and I’m amazed at how complex the Analytics system has become. Yes, it offers a whole heck of a lot of functionality now, compared to ten years ago, but it’s also really intimidating to use.

If you’re new, and just want fast, easy access to core Analytics data – how many visitors you get, how many page views, what paths your visitors follow, your most popular pages, think like that – then MonsterInsights is for you.

It sits right in your WordPress dashboard and gives you simple, one-click access to core site metrics in an easy to understand graphical format.

The second thing MonsterInsights does might be even more important for newer users – it’s a super simple way to get Google Analytics up and running on your site. Just give it your Google Analytics ID information and MonsterInsights will take care of all the code insertion necessary to get it running. It’s a very easy copy/paste solution to an otherwise sticky problem.

Without MonsterInsights you’re still going to need some kind of plugin to properly insert your Analytics tracking code into each WordPress page (unless you want to go all super-guru and start editing the core php files), so why not get the added benefit of easy access to your Analytics data as part of the deal?

MonsterInsights has a paid plan, but we’ve never used it. That’s mainly because we’re pretty comfortable with poking around the internals of the Google Analytics system itself. If that feels like something you’re not super pumped about, a few bucks will let you access all kinds of advanced data reports right from WordPress itself.

There’s a lot more that MonsterInsights can do – ad tracking, popular post statistics, AMP optimization, etc. Check out the link below to explore all of the features in depth.

See Everything MonsterInsights Can Do: Google Analytics for WordPress

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