An explanation of WordPress plugins and some top free ones that will help you improve your site’s rankings.
One of the major reasons why WordPress is the most popular content management system is because of the availability of WordPress plugins, which add additional features or change existing capabilities. These plugins allow site owners to customize the way WordPress operates, making for nearly limitless possibilities without any programming experience.
What is a WordPress plugin?
A plugin is additional programming for the WordPress system that is typically developed by a third party. Many of them are designed to alter the way the system operates by default, so almost anything about WP can be changed as needed.
There are also more that are designed to add completely new features to the system. The best part is that people are not limited to using a single plugin. They can be mixed and matched on a site in almost any combination to provide the specific capabilities needed by the site owner.
The whole point of plugins is to allow site owners to completely customize the way their sites work. It also gives developers a way of making changes or improvements to the sites without modifying the core code. If the core WordPress code is changed, future updates will not be able to be performed.
Free plugins in the WordPress repository
The easiest place to find new plugins is to search or browse the WP repository. This is a collection of completely free, open source plugins that have been developed. Some of them are made by actual users of WordPress, while others are made by software companies.
There are a ton of them available through the repository. However, there are a few downsides to using them. These free plugins can literally be developed by anyone, so there is no guarantee that they will work as intended or without problems.
Furthermore, as new versions of WordPress are released, problems can develop in older plugins that are using outdated code. When they are no longer supported by the developer, which frequently happens, then site owners who use them can find themselves with a broken website after a WP version upgrade.
That being said, most plugins are safe and there are quite a few excellent plugins that are frequently updated by their developers. When deciding on a plugin, check reviews, ratings and when the last update was made. In addition, check the site after updates. If there is ever a problem, simply disable all plugins. If the problem goes away, then it is clearly plugin related. Enable plugins one at a time until the problem reappears.
Commercial WordPress plugins
The other alternative is to use commercial plugins. They are generally packed with many more features and capabilities than the others, and they are frequently updated to keep them working with new versions of WordPress.
Commercial plugins will almost always be more powerful than a free version that attempts to do the same thing and are typically better for marketers that are trying to make money with their websites. When money is involved, future plugin updates to keep pace with WordPress are essential to long-term success.
Just like free versions, there are still going to be commercial versions that are inferior products. In general, avoid overly simple commercial plugins, unless they are absolutely necessary. Since WordPress is the most popular content management system in the world, there are a lot of marketers out there that will quickly develop low quality plugins to attract sales from many different products, but there are also marketers and companies that develop extremely high-quality WP software for very affordable prices.
When using free or paid plugins
While most WordPress sites have a number of plugins installed, it is important not to get carried away and install too many. Apart from the hassle that comes with keeping a large number of plugins updated and set properly, there are some more serious concerns. Plugins will use site resources, and too many might slow it down. In addition, there is the danger of some plugins being vulnerable to hackers or not working after a WordPress update. With this in mind, be selective when choosing which plugins to install, even if they are totally free.
The best WordPress plugins
While the plugins used will vary with the goals of the site, there are certain types of core plugins that almost all WordPress websites need.
Search engine optimization plugins
SEO plugins: These are designed to optimize the WordPress system for better search engine rankings, are where most WordPress operators need to start. The base WP system is lacking in many areas of search engine optimization, so these plugins are designed to improve this significantly through a variety of tweeks.
SEO Ultimate and All in One SEO Pack are the two top free SEO plugins designed to optimize websites for better search engine rankings in a wide variety of ways. For example, they make it easy to insert title and description tags and have meta tag generation. However, modular design makes it possible to pick and choose which features to use.
Sitemaps: XML sitemaps should be generated to ensure search engine crawlers can properly crawl and index a WordPress site. Google XML Sitemaps is perhaps the most popular plugin for this and will automatically generate these sitemaps and notify search engines when new posts are created.
Keywords: For keyword density statistics, Keyword Statistics is recommended, since it provides site owners with keyword density statistics on each post on their site.
While writing a post or page in the system, Keyword Statistics displays the most frequently used keyword phrases. It will show one, two, and three-word phrases along with the count and density percentage of each phrase.
This type of information is extremely important to get good search engine rankings, since it allows bloggers to make changes to their writing to ensure an optimal keyword density. In general, the targeted keywords on a single page should not have more than a 5% density on the page, although this number is often lower or sometimes higher depending on the topic.
WordPress SEO plugins covers some more top plugins in greater detail.
Internal links: Internal linking helps visitors and has some SEO value. SEO Smart Links will automatically link related content (although manual linking must come first). To prevent those damaging broken links, Broken Link Checker automatically checks sites for bad links.
Pinging: By essentially sending out a message to blog search engines that your site has been updated, pinging can help your content get noticed and crawled more quickly. Every time new content is published or updated, WordPress pings it. As repeatedly pinging the same thing (such as when you are revising your posts) can get your banned by ping services, use WordPress Ping Optimizer to limit how often the same post is pinged.
Note: To set up pinging, do a search using keywords such as “ping list” to find a recent list of good, active ping services and enter them under Settings > Reading > Update Services.
Site speed matter both for user interaction and search engine rankings. WordPress is somewhat resource heavy, and this can slow down site loading speed. The following plugins will help speed things up.
Caching:One way to address this is which free caching plugins that will help speed things up for visitors. They work by creating static html files to serve visitors that are much quicker to load. Popular free caching plugins include WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache.
Image size: Images add a lot to sites but can really slow things down when not optimized properly. WP Smush.it takes care of this by automatically optimizing images when they are added to a site.
Lower database load: WordPress automatically saves the old posts after revisions are made, and these unneeded revisions can start slowing down a site. Revision Control gives you the power to keep only the number of revisions you want and will automatically delete the rest.
Optimize database: Keeping a site’s database properly optimized will help prevent problems as well as speed things up. WP-DBManager is a popular plugin that will optimize and backup database, while WP-Optimize provides a simpler but effective solution for those who are only looking for optimization.
Other ways to improve loading times, to include using CloudFlare, are covered in ways to speed up WordPress.
PHP, which WordPress uses, is not particularly secure when compared to HTML. In addition, the popularity of WordPress also makes it a target for hackers. This makes installing at least one security plugin highly advisable. Better WP Security is a great plugin that covers a whole range of security features to include security scans, login limits and intrusion protection. WordPress Firewall 2 will provide an added layer of security. More advice can be found at WordPress security, and additional plugins can be found here.
Social bookmarking and the like are increasingly important in web traffic and SEO. Visitors need an easy way to save, rate and share sites. WordPress plugins to include Sociable make it cinch to incorporate this onto every post and page.
Spam: Allowing visitors to participate and comment on websites encourages them to come back, adds content and improves search engine rankings. Unfortunately, it also brings out the spammers. Akismet is very popular and does a pretty good job of automatically stopping most spam. For added filtering, WP-reCAPTCHA requires posters to input a CAPTCHA when submitting their posts.
Disqus is a free service and plugin that makes commenting easier to do and manage and can work as a great alternative to the above.
Contact forms: Every site should have a contact form for user interaction and because they are required by ad and affiliate networks when monetizing sites. Plugins make adding these forms a cinch. How to create these pages and plugins for it are covered in WordPress contact form.
While these plugins cover the basics, most people need more depending on the needs of their sites. More useful and free plugins can be found here.