Podcast Episode

323 – Essential Plugins for Every Website


Is there a plugin for that?

With more than 50,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, it’s hard to find the perfect one. Each week, I will highlight an interesting plugin form the repository.

For more great plugins, download my 50 Most Useful Plugins eBook.

WooCommerce Email Test is a plugin that allows you to preview your WooCommerce shop emails with this lightweight plugin.

Your Website Engineer Update

Not much to report this week. Little things to keep my sites updated. Built a website for the Hack Detroit Project.

Essential Plugins for Every Website



Caching Your Site

Site Management


Email Capture

Search Engines

Website Tracking

Thank You!

Thank you to those who use my affiliate links. As you know I make a small commission when someone uses my link and I want to say thank you to the following people. For all my recommended resources, go to my Resources Page

Full Transcript

Business Transcription is provided by GMR Transcription.

On today’s episode, we are going to talk about the essential plugins that every WordPress site needs, right here on Your Website Engineer Podcast, Episode No. 323.

Hello, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Your Website Engineer Podcast. My name is Dustin Hartzler, and today I’ll be guiding you through this discussion about the essential plugins that every website needs.

Before we do that though, I have a couple of announcements of things that I want to share with you. The first thing is on the front of announcements, there’s only one real announcement that I want to share with you today. It’s been kind of slow in the WordPress space. There’s not a lot of word camps going on. There’s not a lot of updates happening to WordPress right now, and so there’s not a lot that’s going on in the news.

But one thing that I did see that’s happening, and this is more of a developer type topic, is WP-CLI 1.1 is released, and the project has shifted just a little bit to expand the package index. It adds − Version 1.1 now includes 23 command improvements and eight framework enhancements a dozen bug fixes.

It’s also one of the projects that’s been brought under the WordPress.org foundation or brought under that umbrella, and now it will be moving the website from WP-CLI.org into WordPress.org. And so that’s some things that are going on in the WP-CLI world.

All right. The other thing that I want to share with you today is the, “Is There a Plugin for That?” And this plugin is one that I’ve never heard of, even though I work with WooCommerce. This one is called WooCommerce Email Test.

And this is a nifty little plugin that will allow you to preview your WooCommerce shop emails, and you just preview it within the dashboard, which is really cool. There’s a pro version of this plugin which will allow you to send it to different email providers to see what the look and feel looks like within Gmail and Outlook and Yahoo mail and things like that.

But essentially, this plugin, once you install it, you can select an order. So you go into the plugin itself, and you pick which order ID that you wanna look at, and then you can say what email that you wanna preview, whether it’s the new order, the processing order, the complete order, the customer invoice, the customer notice or whatever. You can just go and you can choose all of those sections, and then you can see what that plugin looks like and see what the email looks like that’s being sent out.

It’s a pretty nifty plugin, and it allows you to see what those customizations look like. If you made some modifications or some tweaks, you can see exactly what you’ve done. This plugin’s got more than 5,000 active installs, so people are using it, and I highly recommend you check it out if you are running a WooCommerce store.

All right. Let’s see what else. Oh, in the Your Website Engineer update of the week, I have to admit that I’ve not done a whole lot with my internet business or working on my website this week. It’s been a pretty crazy week since the last time I recorded.

I spent a few days up in Detroit. I was part of a project called Hack Detroit, and it was a goal to get ten small businesses to get ten websites built in one day. We spent Friday going to the businesses and learning more about the shops, kind of getting a look and feel of how the business operates, and then on Saturday we spent the entire day just working and building websites.

We built the majority of them on WordPress.com, as we wanted to get sites up and running very quickly and see what kind of brochure-type websites we could make with WordPress.com. It was a lot of fun.

I worked on a site called LaDonna’s Classy Creations, and this was by a gal, LaDonna, who was a fulltime hairstylist, and she runs this place in Detroit, and it was cool. We got to go into the area. We experienced it and saw it was half barbers and half salon. And it was just really cool to kind of take what she does on a day-to-day basis, that look and feel of style and creativity and turn that into a website.

So there’s a few more pieces of that that I need to get done, and then I can turn that over to an organization called Tech Town Detroit, and they’re going to be helping Ladonna and her crew to keep that website updated. So that’s just a little update of what’s been going on here.

I’m trying to get an email newsletter blast out, just kind of an overall monthly recap of January, and so those are some things that I’ll be working on in this upcoming week.

Plus, I’ve got to get back into developing and coding because I haven’t done a lot of that in the last couple days.

All right. Now, let’s go ahead and talk about today, essential plugins for every WordPress site. And these are kind of broken down into buckets, if you will, and each bucket has two or three plugins, so you could take your pick, so you don’t necessarily have to − well, you don’t really want to have two SEO plugins or two backup plugins. That doesn’t make any sense.

So I wanted to be able to give you some options when it comes to different plugins. So all of the plugins that we’re gonna talk about are − I was gonna say free. There’s one, I guess, VaultPress, we’ll talk about that in a second, that’s not free. But all of the rest of them are completely free. So let’s go ahead and dive right in.

The first one that I want to talk about is security. I think security is important because we wanna make sure that hackers aren’t getting into our website, and I’ve got two plugins or three plugins to recommend for you.

And this one, the first one is called Better WP Security, or it’s now called iThemes Security. And it is a plugin that I really like, and it’s one of those plugins that is a must-install when I create any brand-new website.

It will allow you to ban IP addresses and hosts from being able to log into your website. You can scan changes to files. It’s got built-in brute protection. You’ve got 404 error detection. You can whitelist your own IP address. You can lock people out if they use the admin as a username or a standard admin. And I typically get hundreds of email every week that says that people are trying to log into my website.

You can do a strong password generator, all built into iThemes Security. And you can import or export your settings with just a few clicks and then move them to other websites. So iThemes Security is one.

The other one is called WordFence. WordFence is really nice. You can do two-factor authentication with WordFence. It’s got some built-in caching. You can scan files for changes.

This one’s one of my favorite features, as it takes a look at the plugins that you’re using, and it scans them to make sure that they’re the same code base as what’s on the WordPress repository and then it lets you know of any differences that you may see or that may be happening on your site that could mean that you’ve been infected or you may have malware on your site. It does malware scanning. It blocks known attackers in real time, and you’ve got IP blocking as well.

And the other one is Jetpack. And Jetpack has a feature built in called BruteProtect, and it does a great job of managing and knowing the IP addresses of people that are trying to brute-force attack your website, and it automatically lets them out − or doesn’t let them in, I guess.

The recommendation is running Jetpack BruteProtect with one of these plugins. So, in my case, I am using the iThemes Security. And iThemes Security also is really great because when you first set up your website, it gives you this big, long checklist of things that you should do, like you should change your database prefix. You should have a different place to log in other than wp-login.php.

So you’ve got some easy things to set up at the first part of iThemes Security, and then you let iThemes Security run in the background and just monitor and keep people out of your site. So that is the first bucket of plugins I want to talk about.

All right. The next type of essential plugin that I think is important and worth talking about is the backup, and we wanna make sure that we’re always having a backup. It just gives you a peace of mind that your website isn’t gonna disappear off into the internet somewhere. I know that if something would happen to my website, and I lost all 323 blog posts or podcasts and show notes, I would definitely not redo them all, so I’ve taken some steps to make sure that that will never happen and have got backup in place.

But the first plugin I wanna talk about is BackWPup, a free plugin on the WordPress repository. There is a paid upgrade to this one if that’s something that you need. But the free version supports remote backups, so you can send them off to Amazon S3, Google Drive and even more. You can restore your website with the restore function. You can schedule your backups to go off at a certain time. And you can export your WordPress XML files if that’s something that’s interesting or something that’s necessary.

The premium one that I wanna talk about is VaultPress. This one is actually technically a free plugin if you subscribe to one of the Jetpack plans. But this is a plugin that you can go, and you basically just turn it on, you add your activation key, and then automatically the company behind VaultPress just does everything.

I have VaultPress turned on for every one of my sites because it monitors and it lets you know of any malware that it may detect inside your plugins and your themes, and it also will update in real time. So, as soon as I add a new blog post, it automatically does a backup.

And it’s not like − on BackWPup or BackupBuddy, when you do a backup, it’s like it creates a complete clone of your website. But with VaultPress, it only backs up the changes that are made. And so every backup after the first backup is really, really fast.

And it’s great for very, very large sites. If you were building a website like, you know, one that’s got hundreds and hundreds of posts, and you add 50 new posts per day, every time you do a backup, that backup file is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. But if you use VaultPress, then the snapshots of each backup is very, very small, which I like a lot. So that’s the second bucket that I wanted to talk about today was backup.

The next one is caching your website, and this will help to improve the speed of your website, and this one really depends on your webhost. There’s two different plugs I wanna talk about. One is W3 Total Cache, and the other one is WP Super Cache.

And both of these work well, and some of them − I guess this is one you have to really work on, on a host-by-host basis. I’ve seen GoDaddy using W3 Total Cache, and it just completely takes their website down to a scroll − or to a stall. It just really slows websites down.

So you wanna make sure, once you’ve installed these, that you check with your host and see if there’s some sort of recommendation on how to set them up best. I’m personally a fan more of, instead of using a plugin like WP Total Cache or WP Super Cache, I’d rather find the caches built in from the host and then make sure that that’s up and running.

So, on YourWebsiteEngineer.com, I am using Flywheel as my host, and I have no caching turned on, on a WordPress site level. It’s all taken care of from my host, and I just feel really comfortable about that. They’ve done everything that I need, and the website loads fast. So I don’t use one of these plugins.

But if you’re not using a WordPress host that has caching built in, then I’d highly recommend checking out one of these plugins. Both of them have the ability to add CDN support. You can do database caching, object caching, browser caching, all that kind of stuff. And there’s lots of settings that you can figure with both of these plugins.

Another section or essential type plugin that I wanna make sure that you have on every website that you’re using is what I’m calling site management. And so there’s two plugins that fall into this category.

One is called Redirection, and this is a handy plugin that will manage all of your URL redirects and make it easy to add redirects for 404 errors. So you can monitor 404 errors. You can add 301 redirects with ease. It automatically detects − or automatic redirects added when post permalinks are changed, and redirect is based on referral. It’s a really handy plugin to just help people navigate your website without going to broken pages.

And the other one that I always have on all my sites is Broken Link Detector. And this is a good one to make sure that there’s no broken links on your websites. It scans your website and looks at all the URLS to make sure they go to valid places. And then, if not, you can either fix them, or you can just remove the link.

I see this happening a lot with commenters. Commenters will come in and leave a comment, and then they add their website to the comment, and then those break because those websites are no longer intact. And so I go ahead and remove those on a monthly basis, go in and just make sure I don’t have any broken links on my WordPress website.

The next bucket that I wanna talk about is a contact form. These are essential, I think. Contact forms and forms are just really nice to have on a WordPress website. That way, we’re not exposing our email address. We have a simple form so people don’t have to open up their email, a client to email you and then you can ask for all the pertinent information that you need when it comes to getting the information for new customers or clients or people who are writing in via your website.

And so there’s three of them out there that I wanna recommend: Ninja Forms, Contact Form 7, and Jetpack. These are all free plugins as well.

The most robust one of this list is Ninja Forms. It’s got a great drag-and-drop interface. It works really well. There’s paid extensions in case you need to expand the functionality and the capabilities of what you can do. So Ninja Forms is definitely one that I’d recommend if you need a more complex, like if you wanna add dropdowns, if you wanna have − I don’t know − if you just wanna have more than just name, email address, contact information, or what the subject is, this is definitely one to check out, Ninja Forms.

And then the Contact Form 7, that’s one in the WordPress repository, and it’s probably one of the most basic ones. The problem − the reason I don’t like Contact Form very well is because you have to configure − first you have to configure the form, and then you have to configure the email that’s sent when somebody submits the form request. And so that’s the only pain with that one. You just have to − it’s like double steps.

With Contact Form 7 − or with Ninja Forms, you can go ahead and you just build the form, and then it automatically brings all of the content pieces into an email, so it’s really easy to set up.

And then Jetpack, if you don’t wanna run any additional plugins, and you’ve already got Jetpack − and we’ll talk about Jetpack a couple more times − but Jetpack has the ability to do really simple forms, and then those are really nice in case you just need, like, you just wanna get somebody’s email address, their name, email address, and a little contact blurb, Jetpack would be perfect for that.

The next category of plugins that every website should have is some sort of email capture, and there’s tons of these out there. There’s specific free plugins based on what email provider you’re using. So if you’re using ConvertKit, there’s a free plugin. If you’re using MailChimp, there’s a free plugin. I didn’t really highlight any of those in the episode today because it’s gonna depend highly on what email provider you’re using.

But the two that I did highlight is one called Sumo Me, and one is called Popup Builder. And Sumo Me is a free plugin that will allow you to grow your email list. It has other things built in. So you can do opt-in forms, and you can do list-building and scroll boxes and smart bars. It’s a very complex plugin. It’s very similar to the OptinMonster that I’ve used before in the past and talked about in the past. But it gives you abilities to do a lot of really cool things when prompting for opt-ins for your email newsletter.

And the other one we talked about, I think last week or the week before in the, “Is there a Plugin for That?” section is called Popup Builder. And this is just a simple popup builder that you can create on your website, and you can do popups to capture email addresses or capture Facebook likes or things like that. And it’s really about engaging and being able to connect with people on a personal basis.

So whether you’re capturing email addresses or you’re trying to get them to your Facebook page, you know, some way to get them engaged with what you’re doing so you can send them messages specifically for whatever you’re doing, that is a really big deal when it comes to running an online business and an online website.

All right. I’ve got two more categories I wanna talk about: search engine optimization. That’s definitely something that every website should be focusing on or have some sort of plugin that we can control exactly what Google sees, and the suggestions out there are All in One SEO, Yoast SEO, and WP SEO. And so these ones, I think all of them are pretty similar, just depends what you’re looking for in a WordPress plugin.

The All in One SEO and Yoast SEO are a little bit more complex, I guess. It gives you a little bit more ability to do a few things. The Yoast SEO one, it’s got a picture of a traffic light as part of the way to know whether or not or how well your content is written.

And so it goes in, and it analyzes your page title, the keyword that you’re searching for, what the meta description is. It looks at your post content, like how much post data is there. Is it too short of an article, too long of an article, things along those lines. That’s something that Yoast SEO has built in.

All in One SEO pack has pretty much the same features. They do a lot with making sure that you can control the way that the titles work for different categories or for your store pages, and you can add social media data as well along with the All in One SEO pack.

The one that I just recently switched over to is called WP SEO. It’s the same plugin that WordPress uses on all of their websites, and it gives the customers on WordPress or the VIP customers, it gives them the ability to customize the title, the meta content and the keyword on a page-by-page basis. It’s a much simpler plugin, and I like it a lot because it doesn’t add a bunch of bells and whistles, and it’s just really, really easy to use.

And that one is the only one on this whole list that isn’t found on the WordPress repository. You actually have to download it from GitHub. You can download it as a zip file and then upload it to your WordPress directory. So it’s just a little bit different of a way to get that plugin onto your website.

And the last one that I want to share is for website tracking. There are a couple out there. The first one is Google Analyticator. This will allow you to connect your website to your Google Analytics account.

And so this is really great just to make sure that you can see what your traffic’s doing, where it’s coming from, where it’s going, how long they’re staying on the page, what kind of devices they’re looking at. Where are your customers coming from? Are they mostly coming from your country or your state? All of that information is built right in, and I really like that ability to go in, and you can look for all that information.

The other one is called Clicky by Yoast, and this is a more straightforward plugin. You can add your Clicky tracking code, and you don’t need to really mess around with any code. And you can avoid tracking from admins. You can support disabling use of cookies. You can do goal tracking. You can do all kinds of link tracking. You can look at statistics. You can do all kinds of things with Clicky by Yoast.

And then if you don’t need a lot, a lot of information about your customers or people that are coming to your website, then Jetpack is another great one to use. Jetpack will look at all of the people that are coming to your website on a daily basis. It performs really well, but it doesn’t give you the all in-depth stats. You can see the countries of people that are visiting, what pages are being most highly viewed and things like that, how many people are coming to your website on a daily, a weekly, a monthly basis, things like that.

But it doesn’t give you the ability to dive in and see how long they were specifically on a page or where they came from − I think you can see where they came from, but where they go − there’s just not a lot, a lot of data.

But if you’re just getting started, and you just want to see, like, hey, is my website getting five people coming to it, or is it getting 500 people coming to it, then Jetpack is a great website tracking tool. And so I recommend installing one of those and getting them up and running.

I always do Google Analytics. I just like the extra information that’s in Google Analytics. I use just about zero of it, but to know that someday if I ever want to, I can go in and take a look and see exactly what’s going on, I really enjoy that and I really like that.

So those are the plugins, the essential plugins that I wanted to talk about. There was security, backup, caching your site, site management, forms, email capture, search engines, and website traffic. That’s a mouthful. There’s a lot there, and there’s a lot of plugins that could be used to keep your website up and running and just working in its best state. So those are the plugins that I wanted to share.

Thanks so much for tuning in and hanging out with me this episode. Next week, we’re gonna talk about plugins to use to debug our WordPress website, so what kind of things and issues may come up when we’re looking at fixing a broken website or just to make a website perform just a little bit better, so that’s something to look forward to. And until then, we’ll talk to you again soon. Take care. Bye-bye.

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