In this post I’m going to talk about plugins and and adding functionality to WordPress. The great thing about WordPress is it’s open source so there’s an entire community dedicated to developing functionality using plugins that can in most cases be added to your website easily.
A word of warning!
Use plugins sparingly as they can slow down your site and in some cases make it more vulnerable to being hacked or compromised. For the most part, using well known and frequently developed plugins is perfectly fine.
When you start getting into plugins with lower ratings or less widely used plugins you may start to see issues. WordPress.org has a ratings and review system making it easy to tell if a plugin is going to be a good fit.
Plugins can be used to add anything as simple as a contact form or as complex as an entire shopping cart system and a lot of things in between. There are page builders, events calendars, photo image galleries, YouTube video gallery plugins and much, much more.
At the least I like to start with plugins for backups, a contact form, search engine optimisation (SEO), email list capture form, basic security and something to brand the WordPress login page with your own custom logo.
Here are some plugins I recommend using. There are lot of alternate options to these so by all means try some different plugins out to get an idea of what works for you.
- Updraft Plus (WordPress Backups)
- Contact Form 7 or Ninja Forms
- Yoast SEO
- Chimpress (Adds a Mailchimp signup form)
- Sucuri (Security monitoring)
- Login Logo (Add a custom logo to your login page)
There are also a lot of premium plugins available requiring a paid license to work on the website. This post was written to help you install a WordPress site as cheaply as possible so i won’t be talking about any premium plugins.
While there are a huge amount of free plugins out there, because of the fact they are free they level of features and support available can vary greatly. Make sure you check the ratings, date the plugin was last updated and make your decision based on what other people are saying.
A general rule of thumb is anything more than a year since last update is possibly (not always) not compatible with the latest version of WordPress and may cause issues. There are exceptions to this rule for some of the more basic plugins but for anything with more advanced functionality I would recommend being careful with this.
Find and install a plugins
- Go to Plugins > Add New
- Use the search field on the right hand side
- Check the ratings and date the plugin was last updated
- Once you have found the plugin you’re looking for click the install button, wait for it to download the files and then click the activate button
Some plugins will add a new menu item to the left hand side and some will only add a link to one of the existing WordPress admin menu items such at Settings.
If you want to try a plugin out to test its functionality, by all means install and activate it and see how it goes. If for some reason you don’t want to use it, simply deactivate and delete it.
Usually the hosting you chose will provide automated weekly backups which is great if something happens and you need to just get your site back up and running if something breaks.
If you update your website more often than once a week you should have daily backups in place. What if you have posted 5 new blog articles and your site gets hacked? If you only have a weekly backup available and restore your site you will lose all your hard work. With daily backups it’s more likely you will save a lot of heartache.
I recommend doing daily offsite backups to somewhere like Dropbox or Amazon. The Updraft Plus plugin is free and comes with the ability to store backups on your Dropbox account. It’s worth taking the time to set this up for peace of mind.
You could simply add your email address to your website as a way for visitors to contact you but this may open you up to being spammed. One way around this is to add a contact form to your website which can easily be done using a plugin.
Contact Form 7 and Ninja Forms both come with a standard contact form installed so you will need to do very little work to get one up and running. Go to the plugin admin area, select the form and copy and paste the short code into your contact page and you should be almost good to go.
You may need to add your email address to the settings so that the form send an email to you. You can test this by using the form on your website.
Search Engine Optimisation
There are a lot of well know plugins to help with SEO on the market and Yoast is one of the forerunners. Their support is amazing and their head developer is active in the WordPress community, always answering questions and helping out. The documentation on their site is some of the best there is for any plugin so I choose to use Yoast.
At a minimum after installing I would link your google webmaster tools account, add on your social media accounts under SEO > Social media, add a custom Facebook Open Graph image and any other specific social media information.
Yoast adds a section to every page and post in the admin area where you can edit the way Google and other search engines see your pages and posts. A lot of the time depending on how your site is set up the default setting will be ok but having the power to control this can be the difference between being found and or not being as easily searchable.
I would definitely recommend taking the time to do some of the tutorials at yoast.com and read through their blog to familiarise yourself with some of the basic principals of SEO.
Adding a plugin to make it easy to add a Mailchimp email capture form is a must. Building an audience and email list capture is a huge topic covered a lot elsewhere. Email engagement is still at a high level so it’s crucial you give your visitors the opportunity to subscribe to your email list.
I will get into this more in future posts but creating regular content and keeping in touch regularly with your audience is a huge factor in how engaged with them you will be.
Setting up a Mailchimp account is easy. Go to mailchimp.com and signup then go to Lists create a list.
Using the Chimpress plugin you can easily add a subscribe form to your site. Follow the open screen instructions to get up and running.
In this day and age and with WordPress being such a popular platform, it has also become the target of malicious attackers and other pesky intruders. By default WordPress is only protected by the password you set on your admin area. There are a few plugins to harden you WordPress installation by blocking and detecting login attempts it deems to be from a non-trusted source.
Usually this would be someone trying to log in who isn’t you. This could be an actual person but is usually a bot set up to carry out what is know as brute force attacks. This is when a program will repeatedly try and log in to your site using common usernames and password in the hope it will be able to.
Sucuri is the go to plugin I use to help stop this kind of traffic. I also use Wordfence which is also very popular.
Other useful plugins
There are too many plugins available to talk about here but depending on what you need you should be able to find something to do the job.
Adding icons to link to your social media accounts or to enable people to share your content, an events or gigs calendar page, online store to sell music and merch – almost anything you can imagine can be done with plugins.
Login to admin area and install some of the plugins I have talked about above. Have a go at searching for plugin you think might be useful to your site. Make sure you check the rating and the date the plugin was last updated and only install plugins you plan on using. Try some different plugins to get an idea of what works best for you.