With thousands to choose from, deciding on which plugins are going to benefit your business the most can be time-consuming. With so many plugins available, it’s difficult to know where to start. I have been using WordPress plugins since 2012, and during this time, I have tried and tested many. Which is why I decided to write this blog post. Below you will find my recommended essential WordPress plugins that will help your business grow.
To make things even easier for you, I have broken down the content into categories, based on the functionality of each plugin.
If you already know what type of plugin you need to help your business grow, skip to the category that is relevant to what you are trying to achieve. See categories below.
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Social Media Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Performance and Optimization
- Page Builders
- Appointment and Booking
If you haven’t heard the term SEO before it stands for Search Engine Optimization and is a form of marketing that focuses on growing a website’s visibility within search engine results.
If you have heard of SEO, you’ll know that it’s not just a case of optimizing your website for search engines to index, there’s a range of different techniques involved.
Implementing even basic SEO within your website can be confusing if you’re a beginner and at times, overwhelming.
Fortunately, there are a few WordPress plugins that have been created to make this task easier for you.
Yoast SEO is one of my favourite all-time WordPress plugins and It’s always one of the first plugins I install when I’m creating a new website.
There are tons of awesome features included when you download Yoast SEO, such as being able to control titles and meta descriptions, implementing targeted keywords, managing your websites sitemaps and a heck of a lot more.
Probably the greatest thing about it though…it’s completely free!
Like a lot of plugins, Yoast SEO does have a premium version that includes extra functionality, which may be useful if you can afford it.
However, you’ll find that the majority of the most important functions within Yoast SEO are already included within the basic version, so in my opinion, choosing to buy the premium version is optional, not necessary.
Another popular choice for WordPress users is ‘All in one SEO pack‘ which has actually been downloaded over 45,000,000 times since 2007.
I haven’t actually used this plugin, so I couldn’t tell you if it’s better or worse than Yoast SEO.
Statistically, Yoast is the winner with a rating of 4.9/5, compared with 4.5/5 for SEO pack. Both viable options, but personally I’m sticking with Yoast. Why fix what isn’t broken?
MOZ has a great tutorial on how to configure Yoast SEO.
2: Social Media Marketing
It’s 2020, so by now you should all be aware of the benefits Social Media has to offer, it’s been around for that many years, even though it only seems like yesterday we were all using dial-up internet connections and the idea of being able to video message your loved ones who live on the other side of the world was utterly astonishing.
Over the years, social media has developed into an essential marketing tool, as it allows us to connect with our audience in a way that wasn’t possible before.
It’s given businesses the ability to organically grow their brand and reach out to potential customers 24 hours a day.
With Social Media Marketing being such an important factor in a companies success, you can imagine just how many WordPress plugins there are to choose from.
Let me show you the ones I recommend and why I use them.
Like a lot of social media plugins, Sassy Social Share gives readers the ability to share your content, which is probably one of the most important features when it comes to social media plugins.
In contrast to other plugins of this type, there are a few things that make this particular one stand out.
- Fantastic Customization Options: Customization options are far superior to any other free social media plugins I’ve come across.
- There are around 100 sharing/booking marking services.
- No need to register anywhere: a lot of social media plugins require you to create an account with them – annoying!
- Mobile Responsive: Icons can be adjusted according to the width of the mobile device. This is a massive benefit.
- Lightweight Code: many other plugins are bloated with code, which decreases performance and reduces load time. Sassy Social Share has been optimized to prevent this.
Considering this is a completely free plugin, Sassy Social Share really does have a lot to offer.
If however, you are after something more professional and don’t mind spending a bit of money making your website look even more awesome, you might want to check out a plugin called ‘Monarch’.
Monarch is probably one of, if not the best social media sharing plugin for WordPress due to it’s really sleek design and the range of functionalities it includes. It was created by a company called Elegant Themes who have a number of different themes and plugins for sale, most notably, the much talked about DIVI, which is a WordPress theme and visual composer; I’m sure you’ve seen it advertised!
One of the best things about Monarch is the different places you can choose to display your social media icons.
If you really want to bump up your engagement and attract more readers to your social media platforms, the first step is making sure you are displaying your social media icons in an eye-catching place.
Well what’s a better place then in your sidebar. Also, because the icons will be floating on the page, they will always be visible to your audience.
Above and Below Content
If you’ve got a blog and want something that’s going to allow your readers to share your content with their friends, then look no further. There’s a choice of different social media icons you can display, ensuring your blog posts will get the exposure they deserve.
Automatic Sharing Pop-Ups
This is my favourite feature Monarch offers.
Not only can you fully customize what your pop-up says, but you also have the added bonus of controlling how and when your pop-up is displayed to your readers, which is massive in terms of engagement.
If you have really great content, you can set your sharing pop-up to be displayed right at the end of your blog post. If what you’ve written is valuable to your reader, they will almost certainly give it a share.
Other features you get with Monarch include:
- Upon % Scroll: You can tell Monarch to trigger a social pop-up or fly-in to your visitors after they scroll a defined percentage down the page.
- After Purchasing: Display a sharing pop-up or fly-in to your customers after they checkout so they can share your online storefront with friends and family.
- After Inactivity: If a user is inactive on your page for too long, Monarch can be triggered to re-catch your visitor’s attention with a pop-up or fly-in.
- After Commenting: After a visitor leaves a comment on a post or page, you can present this highly engaged user with a social pop-up or fly-in.
- Over 35 social networks to choose from
- Lighting fast
Now because Monarch is a premium theme, you do have to pay for it – although it’s totally worth it!
To get access to Monarch and all of its wonderful features, you actually have to sign up with Elegant Themes, which will only cost you $89/year.
However, this yearly subscription doesn’t just give you access to Monarch. You actually get unlimited access to all of their themes and plugins which you can use on however many websites you like, including DIVI, the theme I mentioned above.
DIVI was built to give non-tech people the ability to create beautiful and professional-looking websites, without having to learn code.
$89/year really is a bargain when you see all the features you get.
If you are interested in this and feel it could be beneficial to your own website or business, I highly recommend you visit the Elegant Themes website and check out all of their features, maybe even read some reviews.
3: Email Marketing
If your website isn’t yet fully optimized to collect emails, you’re leaving money on the table.
Let me give you an example of what usually happens when someone browses the internet.
- They type a query into Google.
- They search for their answer – usually located on the first page of google.
- They click on a website hoping it will help them.
- If the website doesn’t help them, they leave and never return.
- If the website does help them, they leave and might return.
There are two very important things we can take from this.
- You MUST have helpful and relevant content.
- You MUST have a way for readers to come back to you.
Anyone that actively clicks on your website is a potential customer.
The most effective way to ensure every reader revisits your website is by building an email list. There are many benefits in doing this and also many ways in which it can be accomplished.
Luckily, there are many different plugins and platforms that make this easy for us.
MailChimp is an email marketing platform that is particularly popular with beginners or those who have small email lists.
The basic MailChimp plan is completely free, although there are restrictions on what you can do.
Within the free plan, for example, you can only send 12,000 emails per month, which is obviously fine if you haven’t got a large email list, but a big problem if your email list is in the thousands.
Another disadvantage of using MailChimp is that they cap you at 2000 subscribers. Even within the premium plans!
That being said, MailChimp really is fantastic and comes with loads of features.
If you are just starting out, I recommend you use MailChimp along with the plugin, ‘MailChimp for WordPress’.
MailChimp for WordPress is a fantastically simple WordPress Plugin in which you can install via the WordPress dashboard within seconds.
After signing up with the MailChimp platform, you can link your account details to this plugin and start getting email subscribers instantly.
The main functionality of this plugin allows you to create a beautiful looking sign up form, which can be displayed on your website, enticing your readers to enter their email address.
Oh, and it’s free!
Hello Bar is a fantastic marketing tool for growing your email list.
For example, if you want your readers to give you their email address, you could simply direct them to a specific page on your website, which might contain the signup form you created with MailChimp for WordPress – as discussed above.
What’s even more effective is offering your readers something in return for their email address.
This is often referred to as a lead magnet.
Let’s say for instance your website is about cooking.
A great way you could build your email list would be to create an eBook on cooking, perhaps making a recipe book.
You could then create a separate page on your website, advertising your eBook and in exchange for an email address, your readers will be able to download a free copy.
Using hello bar, you could inform your readers of your eBook, which links to the page in which it is advertised.
This is a highly effective method!
Ninja Forms is another fantastic plugin that can be installed directly from the WordPress dashboard. Just like MailChimp for WordPress, you can create beautiful and professional-looking email sign up forms that can be displayed on your website.
Compared with other free plugins I’ve tested, Ninja Forms seem to be the best in terms of functionality and ease of use.
Check out some of the features:
- Completely FREE! – Option to purchase additional add-ons, all include a 14-day money-back guarantee.
- Control Every Element – An abundance of settings so you can fine-tune every part of your form: from general settings down to individual fields, submit actions and emails
- Developer Friendly – Built with developers in mind with hundreds of functions, action hooks, and filters that developers can use to create their own custom functionality.
- Effortless WordPress Integration – Add a Ninja Form to your site easily with a widget, shortcode, template function, or append it automatically to any content you choose.
- Instant Updates – Updating the Ninja Forms plugin and extensions is a breeze: one click and you’re done
- Translation Ready – Translation-ready, for easy conversion to any language
If I had to describe Convert Kit, I’d say it was like the Lionel Messi of Email Marketing software – it’s that special.
When I first started blogging, I was using MailChimp for a number of years but often found it difficult to use and set up campaigns.
I made the switch to Convert Kit and it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Although it does cost more than MailChimp. it’s far easier to use and saves me hours of time and effort, and time is money after all.
One of my favourite features about Convert Kit is the email sequences you can create.
An email sequence is a series of emails sent based on pre-set time intervals or trigger-based automation (or both).
- A time-based email sequence involves messages that are sent at predetermined intervals (e.g. immediately after opt-in, 30 days after purchase, one year after subscribing etc.). Time-based email sequences are also referred to as ‘autoresponders’.
- Trigger-based email sequences are sent whenever someone takes an action on your website or within your email sequence (e.g. not logging into the software platform for a week, clicking a link in an email, clicking links in the last three emails etc.)
Your readers can’t expect you to be available 24/7 to send and answer emails. This is where email sequences come in.
As email sequences are automated, once you’ve put in the work, you’re done. You don’t have to do anything else.
You will be seriously amazed at just how simple it is to use.
Two other great things about Convert Kit is their 30-day money-back guarantee and 14-day FREE trial.
If you aren’t currently using any analytics software, it’s time you start asap.
There are many free tools you can use that allow you to see how your audience is interacting with your website, what pages are most popular, how long they are spending on your website, what time they visit your website, plus much more.
All of this information is important and can be the difference between your marketing efforts completely failing and them doing exceptionally well. Tracking this data will allow you to make specific changes to your website as you’ll know what’s working and what’s not.
It’s the same reason why following a specific fitness plan and tracking your calories will always deliver greater results, when compared with going to the gym without a plan and not having a clue what your next meal is going to be.
There are many different analytic plugins you can use, all accessible through the WordPress dashboard.
However, in my experience, the best by far is Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is often referred to as a ‘freemium’ service, because it’s completely free and also offers the same level of functionality as some of it’s premium and rather overly priced counterparts. As far as essential WordPress Plugins go, Google Analytics is pretty high up on my list.
Here are some of the reasons why I personally use it:
- It’s FREE
- Easy to set up – to benefit fully you will need to spend time learning.
- Super Support – There’s documentation on most features.
- Easy Integration with WordPress
- Track Specific Pages – Using the data provided about which pages are most popular, you can optimize these pages for certain objectives, such as building your email list and increasing sales.
- Bounce Rate – This is the percentage of readers that click on your website and leave, after only viewing one page. If your bounce rate percentage is high, it’s very likely your content is irrelevant and unhelpful in relation to what the reader was looking for.
- Reader Information – Google Analytics provides detailed information about visitors coming to your website. This can be helpful when it comes to converting traffic to more customers. Having the information about who’s visiting your website will allow you to tailor certain content or advertisements to meet your reader’s requirements – thus leading to more sales.
- Monitor Mobile / Tablet Traffic – You can see how your website is performing in mobile and tablet.
If you decide to sign up for a Google Analytics account, I also recommend you install the Google Analytics Dashboard plugin.
If you’ve not used Google Analytics before, you might feel overwhelmed with all the different features on the website.
To make things easy for you, the Google Analytics Dashboard plugin provides you with all the info you need, all in one place.
You can install it for FREE from your WordPress dashboard. Once it’s successfully installed and activated, you’ll need to authorize that you’re the owner of the Google Analytics account associated.
To do this, click ‘Authorise Plugin‘ and then enter your one-time access code. Google will provide this access code for you if you click on ‘Get Access Code‘.
All you need to do then is follow the instructions and you’ll get your access code. Copy and paste the code into the box, click ‘save‘ and you’re all set.
Note: Your access code looks like this: 4/AAAFpQEQpv_KUg13DLN8VYJrAPOYFgOYLn_IOf2-sR2T1s5OzeUHY8U
That’s it! You’ll now be able to see all the important statistics about your website.
5: Performance and Optimization
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, ‘Speed Kills’?
Well this is certainly the case with relation to how your website performs.
A slow website sucks. Simple!
According to Google:
53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load”
Three seconds isn’t very long in the real world.
In the online world, however, three seconds can be the difference between your business succeeding, or completely failing. If you have an amazing product or helpful content, you don’t want to keep your potential customers waiting.
Think about it…
How many times have you walked into a fast food outlet only to discover a massive queue?
Did you leave and get food from somewhere else?
Or did you wait around?
This is kind of similar to a website.
No one wants to wait around, especially when they are browsing the internet.
So now you know just how important website performance and optimization is, how do we go about to improve these?
Well luckily, WordPress has a number of fantastic plugins that when configured correctly, will almost definitely improve your websites performance and optimization.
Check out the ones I recommend and personally use on all my websites.
W3 Total Cache is an amazing plugin that I use on not just my own website, but all my clients to. It’s completely free to download and has a range of different features that can dramatically increase the performance and optimization of your website.
When configured correctly you can often expect the following benefits:
- Improvements in search engine result page rankings, especially for mobile-friendly websites and sites that use SSL
- At least 10x improvement in overall site performance (Grade A in WebPagetest or significant Google Page Speed improvements) when fully configured
- Improved conversion rates and “site performance” which affect your site’s rank on Google.com
- “Instant” repeat page views: browser caching
- Optimised progressive render: pages start rendering quickly and can be interacted with more quickly
- Reduced page load time: increased visitor time on site; visitors view more pages
- Improved web server performance; sustain high traffic periods
There’s no wonder it has over 1 million active installations and is rated an impressive 4.3 stars out of 5.
It has around 24 key features, so I won’t name them all here. But you can learn more about W3 Total Cache here.
WP-Optimize is another one of those plugins that just work as they should. There’s no frills or fancy features – at least not with the free version.
What you do get however is an incredibly simple yet effective plugin.
WP-Optimize is an effective tool for automatically cleaning your WordPress database so that it runs at maximum efficiency.
When you edit a post or page on your website, WordPress automatically saves the new revision to the database. If you edit things a few times, your database soon gets clogged up with old revisions that just sit there, taking up valuable space.
WP-Optimize removes these unnecessary post revisions, freeing up valuable Megabytes of data and increasing speed and efficiency.
It also cleans up your comments table, removing all the spam and un-approved comments that have built up with a single click.
An incredibly handy tool to have.
Without a doubt, reSmush.it Image Optimizer has to be on my list of essential WordPress plugins.
If you’ve read this section, you’ll know just how important website performance and optimization is.
The use of images on your site can have a dramatic effect on how your website performs.
Sure, a few beautiful looking images might encourage your audience to click your blog post, or even buy one of your products.
However, images that aren’t optimized can reduce the performance of your site, such as increased loading time.
The plugin works by reducing the file size of your images, therefore reducing the time it takes for them to load.
With just 1 click, you can optimize all of the images within your WordPress dashboard.
Bj Lazy Load is another image optimization plugin that makes your website load faster and saves bandwidth.
It does this by replacing post images, post thumbnails, gravatar images and content iframes with a placeholder and loads the content as it gets close to enter the browser window when the visitor scrolls the page.
If you go onto the homepage of my website, you’ll notice that my images only appear as you scroll down the page.
But I bet you wouldn’t have noticed this if I hadn’t just told you. It’s very subtle.
If you combine this with reSmush.it Image Optimizer you will improve user experience and increase your websites speed.
6: Page Builders
If you’ve already started a blog or attempted to create your own website, you’ll know that It can often be both frustrating and very time consuming when it comes to customizing design.
Although there are many different premium themes to choose from, without a basic understanding of CSS / HTML code, most find it too difficult to customize their website the way they want.
Due to this. a lot of people prefer free platforms such as Wix or Weebly as they both contain drag and drop features, enabling users to design a website the way they want. However, I don’t recommend these platforms if you are serious about your website. Stick with WordPress.
Fortunately, there are a few drag and drop plugins which can be installed straight from WordPress, allowing you to achieve your desired website look.
Unfortunately, many of these page builders aren’t free, but you should consider this an investment.
Would you rather pay £100 or less for a quality page builder and have full control in how your website looks, or pay five times this to have a professional create you a website that you might not even like.
I know what I would choose!
Beaver Builder is one of most popular page builder plugins and is being hailed by some, as the best premium drag and drop plugin on the market.
One of the best things about Beaver Builder is how fast it is.
Some page builders will often decrease performance, such as reducing website speed. Beaver Builder seems to have fixed this issue.
Another benefit of using Beaver Builder is its simplicity.
It’s very easy to use and contains excellent instructional videos and documentation, allowing you to start creating your perfect website right away.
Just like Beaver Builder, Elementor is notorious for how fast it is.
It has a frontend drag and drop page builder, which allows you to see what your site looks like live, as you customize it.
Elementor has a free version that can be installed directly from your WordPress dashboard.
It has over 800,000 active installations and is rated a very impressive 4.8/5.
Here are some of the features you can expect with the free version:
- Drag and Drop – Elementor includes the fastest, most intuitive editor in WordPress. Simply drag, drop and customize
- Widgets – Choose from dozens of widgets, to create any content you need. Buttons, headlines, forms, there’s nothing you can’t do
- Inline Editing – Type straight on screen, using the inline editing feature. This makes writing blog posts and other content an easy and intuitive process
- Mobile Editing – Switch to mobile view, and tweak every element to make it look perfect on any device
- Translation Ready – Elementor has been translated to over 23 different languages, and the list of translated languages is growing
- Template Library – Choose from over 300 beautifully crafted templates, designed to fit every industry and need
If you want even more functionality and customization, Elementor also offers a premium version.
The premium version has 3 different plans:
- Personal ($49) – For 1 website
- Business ($99) – For 3 websites
- Unlimited ($199) – Unlimited websites
All plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
I believe the extra features you get with the premium plans are definitely worth it.
You’ll be able to customize your website exactly how you want it, without too much fuss. Which is very important if you are serious about making money online and growing your brand.
Standing out from the crowd and being unique in your brand’s design is essential.
The Elementor premium plan lets you do this.
7: Appointment and Booking
Depending on your business, you might not even need to use an Appointment and Booking plugin, but it’s always handy to know which one’s are the best should you ever need them.
In my opinion, a good Appointment and Booking plugin should have the following three features:
- Your customers should be able to request specific time slots that are linked to your business hours.
- It should be mobile-friendly, so your customers have the option to book on both mobile and desktop.
- It should be easily integrated with apps like Google Calendar and requests should be automatically saved in WordPress.
Of course, there are other features you may need, but these are probably the most important.
If you’re after a relatively cheap and no-frills appointment and booking plugin, then you should consider Amelia.
As described on the companies website, Amelia is a simple yet powerful automated booking specialist, working 24/7 to make sure your customers can make appointments and pay online even while you sleep!
Sounds pretty good to me!
This is the perfect appointment and booking software for businesses such as salons, gyms and clinics!
According to the company, due to the simplicity of Amelia, it shouldn’t take you more than 3 clicks to configure.
Here are some of the cool features:
- Google Calendar Synchronization
- Search interface for bookings
- WooCommerce Integration
- Detailed dashboard and reporting
- Manage multiple employees
- Automated notifications
- Customizable design
- Discount coupons for bookings
BirchPress is a premium WordPress plugin that was designed to be the perfect tool for any small business.
Although it’s more expensive than others, BirchPress is without question one of the best appointment and booking plugins out there and you do get serious bang for your buck.
BirchPress currently offers three different plans that are packed full of cool features.
Each year more people are throwing themselves into the world of online entrepreneurship and setting up their very own eCommerce business.
In a cut-throat industry, knowing which tools to use for your business is more vital than ever, as using the wrong ones will cost you both time and money.
As the eCommerce industry is booming, there’s no shortage of services that will allow you to integrate an online shop within your website.
Below is a few eCommerce WordPress plugins I recommended.
To date, WooCommerce has approximately 51,680,121 downloads which makes it one of, if not the most popular eCommerce platform on the market.
It’s jammed packed full of great features and is fairly simple to set up.
Here are some of the features:
- More than 400 official extensions – From payments and shipping to marketing and accounting, they’ve got a wide variety of extensions.
- Sell anything – From physical products and digital downloads to subscriptions, content and even appointments, you can sell anything with WooCommerce.
- No limits – WooCommerce is entirely open source, which means you can modify and customize anything and everything. Because you have complete control, you can add unlimited products and users, and take unlimited orders.
- Countless themes – Pick the theme that works for you. WooCommerce is designed to work seamlessly with themes you know and love, including each year’s default WordPress themes and many popular themes from around the web.
- Built-in blogging – Publish great content and build a strong brand. Use WooCommerce to integrate eCommerce with the world’s most popular content publishing platform.
- Product ratings and reviews – Show customer feedback directly on the product page, including a ‘Verified Owner’ label.
- Unlimited products – Add as many products as you want to sell – your only restriction is your inventory.
- One-click refunds – Offer pain-free refunds to customers that can be managed directly in your WooCommerce dashboard.
- Inventory management – Track stock levels, hold stock after an order is cancelled, get notifications for low and out-of-stock items, hide out-of-stock items and more.
With detailed documentation included, you’ll be able to get your WooCommerce online shop up and running in no time at all.
Easy Digital Downloads
I absolutely love the Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) plugin!
And for two very good reasons.
It’s completely free and as the name suggests, it’s easy to use.
Just like most eCommerce plugins, with EDD you can set up your own store which can then be controlled from your WordPress dashboard. Unlike other eCommerce plugins, however, EDD focuses on selling digital goods such as eBooks, PDF files, plugins and much more.
So if you have an online business that sells digital goods, you might want to give EDD a try.
Here are some of the features:
- Discount Codes – Easily create discount codes to encourage customers to buy more. Discounts can be offered at flat or percentage rates and include settings for expiration, maximum uses, and more.
- Full Shopping Cart – Allow your customers to purchase multiple downloads at once using the shopping cart system. With minimum page loads and cleanly designed cart elements, the shopping cart feels seamless.
- Unlimited File Downloads – There are no limitations when it comes to distributing your digital products. Allow customers to download their purchased files endlessly or restrict file downloads by time and/or attempt.
- File Access Control – All product files are restricted to authorized customers only. No configurations are required. You may also set the file download limit and download link expiration.
- Customer Account Page – Through the use of a single shortcode, output an entire purchase history table that is only viewable by logged in customers. Unauthorized users will not have access
- Download Activity Tracking – Monitor all there is to know about how your product files are being downloaded by your customers. Easily track date, time, and even IP address of all purchased and downloaded files.
- REST API – Developers and external applications can take advantage of a complete RESTful API that provides easy access to sales and product information in either JSON or XML format.
- Full Data Reporting – No business is complete without detailed bookkeeping. Easy Digital Downloads has a built-in reporting platform for easily viewing stats, making custom reports, and much more.
Although EDD is free to download, if you want even more control and improved functionality there is the option to purchase some of their paid add-ons.
My favourite paid add-on is Recommended Products.
If you want to up-sell your customers and make more money, this add-on is a very useful tool.
Picking the right plugin for your business needs is difficult since there are so many excellent choices to choose from. My advice is to not rush your decision and definitely weigh up all of your options.
I find writing a pro and cons list very useful!
I hope you find my list of essential WordPress plugins helpful and best of luck in finding the ones that suit you.
Do you know of anymore essential WordPress plugins I might have missed?