The essential list of WordPress plugins to jumpstart your blog in 2018

The essential list of WordPress plugins to jumpstart your blog in 2018

If you’re here, I imagine you’re the type of person who wants to explore beyond the core WordPress CMS and give your blog all the juice it needs to function at its full potential.

I love that cause that means you are going to like what’s coming next.

Welcome to the world of WordPress plugins!

From making your web pages load faster and optimizing your content for search engines to building your email lists and increasing social shares, it’s no secret that plugins can do wonders for any WordPress blog.

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However, with over 53K+ plugins in the WordPress library, it can be quite confusing, overwhelming, and not to mention tedious to tell the good from the bad the downright ugly.

Plus there IS a thing as too many.

Every plugin you activate adds its own script to your website code, which needs to load every time your website does. Simply put, the more plugins you add the higher the chances are for your blog to:

  • Take longer to load, turning away potential readers and conversions.
  • Start misbehaving (such as images not loading, social pop-ups cracking up, etc. being common occurrences).

You can do a ton of things, however, to avoid these unwanted side effects of plugins. For the not-so-technical folks out there, it’s best to:

  • Only install plugins you or your audience absolutely need.
  • Keep the plugins you use updated.
  • Make sure the plugins you install compliment each other. Tip: double check to ensure that you don’t use two different plugins that do the same thing.

From personal experience of working with 20+ WordPress sites, installing and deleting more than 400 plugins, sadly I’ve realized one thing: there is no such thing as the “best” plugin. The way I see it, there are essential goals we want to drive with our sites and there are plugins that help us achieve those goals. I mean, one plugin that’s perfect for an eCommerce site could be absolutely unnecessary for a tech review blog.

The must-have kit of WordPress plugins

Instead of listing the best plugins and the wings they give a WordPress blog, I’m going with a more goal-driven approach and listing plugins based on what they help us do. 

At the end of the day, you will have to decide what you need. This list is only meant to give you a head start into driving the absolutely essential goals of your blog.

Hence, without further ado, here are WordPress plugins that will help you:

  1. Search engine optimize your blog
  2. Moderate comments and block spam
  3. Make sure your blog loads fast
  4. Manage redirects and 404 errors
  5. Gain social shares
  6. Grow a list of email subscribers and leads
  7. Manage and track affiliate earnings
  8. Keep your WP database clean and optimized

Note: Neither a security nor a backup plugin made it to the list because I’m a little iffy on handing over my blog’s security to a plugin and believe that your WordPress hosting provider should take care of that for you. In case you didn’t know, Flywheel is one of those amazing hosts who do!

1. Search-Engine-Optimize your blog for organic traffic

SEO is important. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it.

From ranking your pages for appropriate search queries to bringing in organic traffic to increasing your authority online, if properly done, SEO can help you achieve a lot in the long run.

With Google incorporating more than 200 factors into their ranking algorithm, however, and then constantly updating it to make it even more full-proof, it’s almost impossible to manually keep track of and optimise for SERPs.

Enter SEO plugins for WordPress.

SEO plugins basically guide you through the process of optimizing your blog without you having to go into the technical details of how search algorithms work or update themselves. They help you change both your blog and all of your post titles and meta descriptions, keyword optimize your content, create sitemaps, set canonical links to prevent duplicate content creation, and much more.

Recommended SEO plugin for WordPress: Yoast Seo

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Rating: 4.8 out of 5

As repetitive as it may be, Yoast SEO plugin is the best SEO plugin in the WordPress library and is on every must-have plugin list for a reason. 

Yoast is easy to get out of the box and literally hand holds you through optimizing your on-page and on-site SEO, from optimizing your post titles, metas, URLs, and content for keywords to checking for readability. Plus, it offers the sitemap generation feature, which is definitely an underestimated but equally important part of SEO.

The premium version even lets you manage redirects and improve internal linking.

Pricing: Powerful free version, Premium version for $89/site

Ideal for: Everyone

Alternate SEO plugin: All in One Seo Pack for SEO and Google XML Sitemap for sitemap generation.

2. Moderate comments and block spam

Comments are not only a great way to encourage engagement and answer additional questions, but also to build a strong sense of community and bring all your readers close together. That being said, they need moderation.

Why? Because whether you own a brand new blog or an established one, your blog posts are bound to receive:

  1. comments left by spam bots.
  2. spammy comments left by fellow humans which usually look like “love your post! https://their website.com/url-pointing-back-to-unrelated-apparently-beneficial-post”

All the more reason why anti-spam comment plugins are almost a must-have to ensure comment quality. These plugins not only block spam commentary but also let you review and approve comments you receive before they get published.

Recommended comment plugin for WordPress: Akismet

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Rating: 4.8 out of 5

Stellar at filtering comments and blocking the spammy ones, Akismet is one of the very few plugins that come preinstalled with the core WordPress CMS and you only need to activate it for it to start working!

Akismet basically analyzes comments by comparing them to its database to filter out the ones that look like spam, very efficiently if I may add.

They block spam comments and let you review and approve all comments before making them public directly from the comments dashboard.

Pricing: Free

Ideal if: you don’t have time for comment moderation.

Alternatives: Replyable, Disqus.

3. Speed up your blog

Slow page load times can often make or break the success of any blog, and is one of the key factors that drives incoming traffic away. Sure, a fast loading blog does not guarantee success, but a slow loading one undoubtedly kills half of your chances. Besides being a major cause of high bounce rates (and bad user experience), site speed is also key to Google’s search algorithms and determines where your blog ranks on Google’s search results. 

Fundamentally, you could have the best content but if it doesn’t load fast, you’re looking at trouble.

Caching plugins are often seen as a solution but ideally your hosting provider should take care of that for you on the server-side(like Flywheel does)!

This is where a performance plugin comes right in.

A performance plugin minifies and concatenates your website’s JavaScript (back-end) and CSS (front-end) files which simply put reduces the size of your website and improves its load times.

Recommended performance plugin for WordPress: WP Rocket

layout flywheel wordpress plugin essentials 2018 wp rocket performance plugin

Rating: 4.6 out of 5

With focus on ease of use and user-friendliness, WP Rocket is one of the easiest performance plugins to set up. From personal experience, setting up a performance plugin can be a total pain and veterans like W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache can easily take a day to understand and configure. In that aspect, you need only three to four minutes to get WP Rocket working for you.

WP Rocket works great, lets you easily set up page and browser caching, optimize files, and offers a ton of features, but comes with a small one-time fee. I would say it’s absolutely worth it.

Pricing: One time fee of $39.

Ideal for: Everyone willing to dish out a little cash for a lot in return, and beginners who don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up an overtly complex performance plugin.

Alternate performance plugin: WP Super Minify

4. Automagically manage redirects and 404 pages

With SEO optimization options to play with, you are bound to end up changing your post URLS , from tweaking your permalinks and trying out different keywords to restructuring your content and deleting posts altogether.

Every time you do something like that, you need to redirect the old url to the new one so that both search engines and visitors can access it, which can be quite difficult to keep a tab on without, you guessed it! A redirect plugin.

Recommended redirection plugin: Redirection

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Rating: 4.2 out of 5

This plugin allows you to set up redirects for 404 page errors and manages all URL redirects. Redirection is one of those plugins that does all the hard work for you and every time you change your URLs, it automatically redirects the older link to the new one. 

The only thing to remember while activating this plugin is to turn off automatic log tracking, so there’s no unnecessary load on your database.

Hands down a must have if you want to avoid the hassle of manually adding .htaccess files, which is again undoubtedly foreign territory for non-technical folks.

Pricing: Free

Ideal if: You have the habit of changing post URLs or have migrated your site to WordPress.

Alternative: Safe Redirect Manager

5. Gain social shares

Undoubtedly one of the most impactful inventions since the internet itself, social media presents an amazing channel to build engagement, reach more people, create blog awareness, and ultimately gain a loyal following online.

The role it can play in the growth and success of any blog cannot be stressed enough and if correctly tapped, can put any blog into auto-pilot.

Social plugins help you do exactly that.

Social media plugins in essence , make it extremely easy for your readers to share your content on all channels. In fact, they encourage it.

Recommended social media plugin: Social Warfare

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Rating: 4.3 out of 5

One of the most popular social media plugins, Social Warfare, offers power packed features which are designed to suit both beginners and experienced bloggers.

A perfect balance between features and performance (a common issue among social media plugins), Social Warfare lets you customize visually impressive share buttons, display share counts only when they’re above a particular number, add custom click-to-tweet boxes, and track incoming traffic from social shares, to name only a few of it’s countless features.

Pricing: $29 a year per site, or $135 a year per five sites.

Ideal if: You want a suite of customizable features that encourage shares.

Alternative: AddToAny (free) lets you add social buttons wherever you want on your blog and offers limited tracking and customization options, but all in all is a good plugin if you’re a beginner looking for a free alternative.

6. Grow a list of email subscribers and leads

Anyone with a successful blog will vouch for how crucial it can be to grow an email list. Growing an email list is not only an efficient way to target and engage your readers (and turn them into hooked, loyal followers), but also sell your products, services, guides, ebooks, courses, and such.

Building the list can be quite a hassle for the non-technical, however, which is where email list building plugins step in and make it incredibly easy for anyone to implement.

And asking for emails doesn’t always have to be intrusive to a reader’s experience, given the various control and placement features offered by these plugins.

Recommended email list building plugin: OptinMonster

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5

OptinMonster offers a foray of custom templates for you to use and place wherever you like on your blogs. It lets you design all types of high conversion generating email subscription boxes from basic pop-ups, slide-in bars, sidebar widgets, floating hello bars, scroll mat forms, click and exit intent triggered forms, and much more. 

Recently it also included the content locking feature, which basically lets you lock your content until the reader submits their email information.

Plus, it’s cool A/B testing feature lets you run different versions of the same form to see which works better and make changes accordingly.

Pricing: $9 a month (basic), $19 a month (plus), or $29 a month (pro).

Ideal for: Anyone who is looking for powerful list building features at a nominal fee.

Alternative: Listbuilder by SumoMe a powerful, free alternative to OptinMonster offers intermediate features like light box , exit intent triggered forms, smart bar, and slide in widgets, but requires you to pay (anything between $29 a month to $199 a month) for more customization features, analytics, multiple templates, and A/B testing.

Another fantastic plugin option is Hubspot. Their WordPress integration allows you to use their form builder, live chat, and lead generation tools all from WordPress.

Note: Scroll Triggered Box is a new entry to the list building scene but is extremely promising and lets you prompt readers to enter their email address only after a certain desired period, say when they’ve already read 60% of your content.

Integrate your marketing efforts into your website even further with Hubspot’s WordPress plugin!

7. Manage affiliate earnings

Turning a blog into a smooth income generating machine is not uncommon and while many monetization methods have risen up in the past few years, one of the more popular ones still stands to be affiliate marketing.

While you’re getting your blog up and running, you’re probably only going to look into referring products you love, but as you start expanding and adding more and more pages to your blog, chances are you’re going to register for at least a few dozen affiliate programs to multiply your earnings.

Having said that, effective affiliate marketing brings its own fair share of work, from affiliate link placement and A/B testing to tracking and monitoring, especially as the number of affiliate programs you enroll for increases.

This is where an affiliate link management plugin can be the engine powering your income for years to come.

Recommended affiliate link management plugin for WordPress: ThirstyAffiliates

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Rating: 4.4 out of 5

An efficient plugin when it comes to implementing and analyzing affiliate marketing efforts, ThirstyAffiliates is a monetization powerhouse. It allows you to insert affiliate links wherever you want, cloak links, automatically add links into certain keywords, experiment with A/B link placement and analyze their success.

Plus it’s link management features are super convenient – they let you change multiple affiliate links at once without having to manually update a number of articles and import your links to other domains.

Ideal if: You have multiple affiliate links to manage or multiple blogs to run.

Pricing: $49 a year per site. And if you want an even better deal, check out our Creative Toolbox. You can also view their free option here.

Alternative: Simple URLs (free) is a simple alternative if you have a few links to manage and need simple URL redirects. Limited tracing and testing options.

8. Keep your WordPress database clean and optimized

Much like we clean our phones to get rid of unnecessary stored data to prevent it from misbehaving or slowing down, our WordPress blogs also need cleanup. Why? As you start building your blog, adding and editing posts, WordPress starts storing their older versions in your database, filling up valuable space.

Not to mention, there’s data left by uninstalled themes and plugins, comments, and pingbacks. Basically, every little interaction between you, your readers, and your blog takes up a wee bit of space on your database, which in time, only keeps getting bigger.

Database cleanup plugins tackle this space issue with ease and don’t require any sort of technical expertise to set up or configure.

Recommended database cleanup plugin: WP-optimise

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Rating: 4.9 out of 5 

One of the most installed database clean up plugins in the WP library, WP-Optimize, cleans up revisions, auto-drafts, deleted post comments in spam and trash, orphaned and duplicate data, and gives you granular control over exactly what you want to remove.

The best part? WP-Optimize automates the whole process by letting you schedule your clean ups. So say you set it to carry out weekly cleanups, it will do so without you having to worry every week, essentially turning database optimization into a one-time-task. Isn’t that amazing?

All in all, it’s a great plugin that does exactly what it says and substantially increases blog speeds.

Pricing: Free

Ideal if: You have the habit of revising your posts or if your blog is more than six months old.

Alternatives: Wp-Sweep (free)

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Want more plugin recommendations? Download this free ebook!

I’ve gone out on a limb and assumed that you do want to achieve all of these essential goals with your blog. That being said, the niche of your site may demand additional plugins like WooCommerce if want to set up shop or CoSchedule for blogs run by co-authors or Photo Gallery for image galleries, to name a few.

Plus as far as essentials go, there are thousands of options out there, including ones I’ve probably never heard. If I missed your favorite plugin(s), please post them in the comments section and tell us why they’re epic!

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