25 May 2022, by Slade Baylis
WordPress is one of the most widely used website building platforms in the world. As of 2021, around a third of all websites in the world used it, and with up to 1.3 billion websites out there in total, this ends up being around 455 million websites built using WordPress! Now there's a standout reason for such a high uptake - it’s "free" in both senses of the word - free as in open source and free for anyone to use without charge.
Its high level of adoption is also due to its flexibility - as the WordPress platform allows for modifications to be made to suit one’s particular needs. Though it started out primarily as a blogging platform, over the course of time, through the use of plugins, it became more common to use it for other types of websites. For instance, nowadays, eCommerce plugins can easily turn it into a simple-to-use storefront; CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) plugins can instead change it into a business system for tracking client information and handling sales requests; and it can even be turned into a simple Social Media platform for use with local social or sporting groups!
Whilst all these plugins allow one to customise a website exactly to their specific needs, it can be quite difficult to know which plugin is the best one to use in each circumstance. Given there is such a wide range of eCommerce plugins available for WordPress, which should one use? The same is true for every type of plugin that’s out there - which is the best one? This is why we’ve created the list below of the most important plugins for WordPress. Each plugin we highlight here will be our top recommendation for the particular feature that the plugin adds.
With the number of cyber-attacks across the board increasing as much as 89% in Australia during 2020 alone, the need to protect one's website from nefarious third parties has never been so important. There are many different ways to make your website more secure - from setting up a Web Application Firewall to detect and prevent common exploit attempts; locking down administrator areas to certain IPs; having regular virus scanning; or even potentially blocking higher-risk countries entirely!
Even with this being the case, dedicated hardware firewalls are often prohibitively expensive for clients who use shared hosting environments for their websites – and that’s not even mentioning the much more expensive Web Application Firewall appliances! But all hope is not lost for these clients, because as usual, there is a WordPress plugin for that.
We’ve detailed this in our Protect your WordPress website with a plugin-based WAF article and so won’t go into too much detail here. However, in short, this plugin should be considered a must for any business with a limited IT budget who is worried about their online security.
WordFence allows you to set up scheduled malware scans of your website, even comparing files to the source files available on the WordPress repository. It can give you WAF-like protection on your website, protecting against common SQL injection, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks and more. It can even lockdown administration URLs to only allowed IP addresses or allow you to block entire countries if you don’t expect to get any legitimate traffic from them.
When it comes to website optimisation, one of the most common terms you will hear is “caching”. Caching is the process of storing or remembering a result so that information doesn’t need to be looked up multiple times. This enables data to be returned much quicker than if it had to be generated dynamically upon every unique request.
For example, when someone visits your website, your hosting provider’s server gets to work and starts dynamically generating your website based on your website code, which it then passes over to the visitor. For each new visitor, the same process repeats. With caching however, after that first visit, the server stores the result, which it then hands to each subsequent visitor, saving processing time and speeding up the website for them.
We’ve gone into more detail on this in our Seven ways to get more performance from your website article, but it’s accurate to say that every website should have some form of caching implemented to increase its performance.
There are many great caching plugins available for WordPress, but the one we would recommend is LiteSpeed Cache. As long as your hosting provider or server has LiteSpeed installed, you will be able to use this plugin to enable caching throughout your website. We use LiteSpeed on all our Web Hosting servers, as it also speeds up websites across the board even without using its caching features!
With that LiteSpeed caching plugin, it even has other advanced features that allow you to get more performance out of your website, such as being able to reduce the number of files sent per request by combining them with only a single click. With those included it’s more like an all-around performance improvement plugin, rather than just a caching plugin.
For those who don’t have LiteSpeed installed on their server nor have it provided by their hosting provider, our runner-up recommendation would be WP Rocket - as it can give you a similar performance boost on non-LiteSpeed servers.
Whilst being able to track changes made to your website could be seen mainly as a security feature, another potentially even more useful purpose is being able to track down and diagnose issues that may occur with your website. From having your website break unexpectedly, to having the performance suddenly decrease, being able to actually see what changes were made around the same time can reduce what could have been a multi-hour ordeal into one that can be solved in minutes.
Within WordPress by default, there isn’t much information about what changes occurred and when they happened, and although you can see who last edited a page or post, that’s about it. This is why we recommend WP Activity Log be installed on any WordPress website. It allows you, as an administrator, to track activities like user logins, post & pages changes, and even changes to plugins and themes (such as when a user installs, removes, activates, or updates them).
You can easily see the benefit of this with a few examples. If a feature on the website stopped working at the same time as the plugin that adds that functionality was updated, it’s safe to assume that’s not a coincidence. If your website’s performance suddenly took a nose-dive around the time a new plugin was added, it could be that the new plugin is unoptimised and is dragging the whole site down with it.
With any of these types of issues though, it’s not something you can install after the fact. You’ll need to have WP Activity Log installed beforehand to be able to have it help when it counts.
Over the last few years, the term “site builders” has skyrocketed in popularity. Though website builders have been around for decades, the recent rise in use is almost directly tied to the rise of services like Wix and Squarespace. These services allow you to build a website without needing to know how to code and in fact, allow you to do it all with a drag-and-drop interface. Gone are the days of needing to pay someone else to build a basic website for you. There is just one major drawback, in that once you build your website using their software, you can’t move it to anyone else and you’re stuck with them.
The good news is that due to their popularity, lots of plugins have been developed for WordPress to offer a similar experience. Now it’s easy to turn your WordPress website into a drag-and-drop style website builder, without the downside of being locked into using a single provider. Within this space, there are two main options, Divi and Elementor.
Both Divi and Elementor are good options for making it easier to build your own website. Whilst Elementor has been said to be more user-friendly and intuitive, Divi’s attraction is its pricing model whereby it allows users to pay a one-time fee rather than ongoing subscription payments.
In either case, both of these options give you the ability to easily build yourself a website without being locked into hosting that website with a single provider.
When it comes to backups, it’s better that you have them and not need them, than need them and not have them. This is why it’s recommended that you have multiple different types of backup of your website, and even better, stored separately from one another. With all the hosting plans that we offer, we take multiple backups of our user’s accounts with technologies like Veeam and Acronis – and even then we still recommend our users take their own backups.
This is where this next plugin comes in, Updraft Plus. This is the most well-known backup plugin available for WordPress - with over 3+ million installs globally. It allows users to easily automate and schedule their backup processes. The free version allows users to backup their sites automatically as well as send them to external Cloud storage solutions. The premium version allows for even more niceties, such as being able to set backups to be taken automatically before core, plugin, or theme updates.
Backing up your own website as well as making sure your provider includes backups with their services will mean you are more protected against data loss. Even if your provider’s backup system runs into issues, you will still have access to a copy of your own website and website data.
Another common requirement of a website is the ability to sell products online, known as “eCommerce” functionality. As reported by business.gov.au1, since the start of the pandemic, online shopping across the board has seen a massive increase - even among senior citizens! With that, it’s even more important to know which choice would be best if you are looking to set up an online store.
There are several good choices, but the undisputed king in this area is WooCommerce. Initially released in 2011, it’s since grown into the most widely used eCommerce plugin with over 5+ million downloads globally. With the base plugin being free to use and only charging for advanced features that their users require, it’s easy to see why they are the most popular option.
With the ability to integrate/connect to more than 100+ different payment gateways, including Stripe, PayPal, EWay, and Square, even if you’re just running your own business by yourself, you can easily get a storefront set up for yourself without much hassle.
Whilst we’ve already covered the performance side of things with our mention of LiteSpeed Cache, this plugin addresses another key aspect around website speed, which is image optimisation. We’ve covered this in detail in our Seven ways to get more performance from your website article, but in short, if your images aren’t optimised for display on the web, they can cripple your website!
With image optimisation potentially being a killer to your website’s load times, it’s something that you’ll want to get fixed if it’s a problem happening on your website. Given it can be an arduous and time-consuming task to fix each of them, more so if you have a particularly image-heavy site, then this is where Smush comes in.
Smush gives you the ability to optimise every image across your site automatically. Without it, you would need to have a web developer or staff member download each one and do it manually, potentially taking hours upon hours, or possibly even days! As you can see, being able to automate that process could save you quite a bit of money!
As you can see, there is a large variety of WordPress plugins available to help turn it into whatever you need it to be. With over 55,000 plugins available in total, it’s likely that the feature you need is in there somewhere!
We’ve covered some of the top plugins that are available in this article, but as we’ve mentioned in our Spring cleaning? Include your website to make it fast and secure! article, there are a few simple rules that can help make it easier for you choose high-quality options from such an extensive list.
Making sure that the plugin has a high amount of downloads; that it's being updated frequently; and that it is highly rated by its users - are all good indicators that it’s worthwhile!
If you have any questions about WordPress plugins or would like to look into getting one set up on your website, reach out to us - as we’re more than happy to help!
You can call us on 1300 769 972 (Option #1) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help get you started on the right foot.
1 3 digital trends for small businesses to follow in 2022, <https://business.gov.au/news/3-digital-trends-for-small-businesses-to-follow-in-2022>