Last updated on May 19th, 2018
Plugins are add-ons to WordPress which allows easier customization to WordPress, usually without coding. They are used for many reasons such as website speed optimization, social media marketing, and SEO.
Plugins come in free and paid versions or what is also called freemiums.
How to Add Plugins to WordPress
There are 2 ways to download and install plugins:
- The easiest way is to search, install, and activate plugins through your wp-admin.
Go to your WP dashboard → Plugins → search for plugin → Install -> Activate.
- The second method involves searching and downloading plugins from the WP plugins page or from a WP developer. Just like WP themes, plugins will come in a compressed file. Then go to your WP dashboard → Plugins → Add New → Choose File → Install Now → Activate.
I lied, there is also a third way which requires ftp access, but you won’t need to know that for now.
Often the premium version of a plugin needs to be downloaded directly from the developer’s website.
If a plugin is written with poor code, it can make your website perform slowly or go down. It’s a good idea to read the plugin’s review.
Check Plugin Compatibility
You’ll also need to check the plugin is compatible with the latest version of WordPress. You can confirm the compatibility with the developer’s page, the plugin’s WP page, or even from the WP dashboard. The above photo shows the compatability below the plugin description.
A few plugins, especially simpler plugins from a coding standpoint, tend to function just fine without being updated for years.
Some plugins are not compatible with others when they try to produce or modify the same block of code.
Now for a word of caution: A new WordPress publishing editor, Gutenberg, is being beta tested. Many plugin developers will need to test compatibility with Gutenberg.
You should research plugins that you intend to install.
Depending on the WordPress installation, sometimes there may be default plugins already installed. Plugins that are not required or not in use on a WordPress install should be deleted.
Recommended Best Free WordPress Plugins
Every WordPress website differs in terms content and target audience. Therefore, the following plugins are recommendations and not a one-combo-for-all approach. It’s very possible some WordPress sites will never require a plugin.
The following plugins are all free. Some of them have paid upgrades.
1. Akismet Anti-Spam
This free anti-spam plugin is a must for new WordPress users. It’s usually installed by default.
Jetpack allows you to connect to the features of WordPress.com. Like Akismet, it’s usually already installed. The plugin helps with the following WordPress areas: writing posts, sharing posts, discussion, traffic, and security.
I only use Jetpack for its discussion feature which allows readers to comment on blog posts using WordPress.com, Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter.
The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an initiative to improve the online experience across all devices. It strips down some of the code and layout, and displays webpages faster on mobile devices. The plugin is free and is pretty much a must-have.
Google has a separate SERP index for mobile pages so it is important to have an AMP compliant WordPress website.
4. Ninja Forms
Install a contact form plugin so your readers can send you private messages.
After setting up your contact form, make sure to test it out.
5. Yoast SEO
A SEO plugin will help a long way with optimizing content for readers and search engines. The plugin checks your content for keywords, keyword density, title length, reading difficulty, etc.
6. WP Smush
WP Smush automatically compresses JPG images to reduce file size. This helps with page load speed, especially on mobile devices where data can be limited. If you’re a photographer, you may be familiar with JPEGMini, which is a standalone image compressor and works similar to WP Smush.
As your WP website grows, more data will be stored on your database. This includes unnecessary data such as post revisions and spam comments. WP-Optimize will remove the unwanted data and in theory, speed up your website via an optimized database.
TinyMCE is a WYSIWYG HTML editor that allows easier text customization of content. The default WordPress content editor is not even capable of changing the font color of text; however Gutenberg will take care of that when it’s integrated.
TinyMCE still has other uses such as creating various types of lists and tables. We’ll see if the plugin will be compatible and still useful when Gutenberg is finalized.