Plugins! Those little gems of functionality that allow you to do, well anything really, with your website. They can be the difference between a site with pizazz and one that’s just blah. The difference between a one-hit wonder and visitors signing up for your newsletter.
But there’s much more to it than just the fun stuff; plugins can also be the difference between a fast, secure and high-ranking site and a sluggish, hacked, or worse – deleted – one!
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Plugins that you MUST have
Ok, by “must” I don’t mean that your publishing platform insists upon them (although there are some plugins that are necessary to enable certain themes to work well). What I mean is that you’d be silly not to use them on your site (most of them are working on this site, right now!). And, let’s face it, most of us are chefs first and web technicians second (or last). So, if you’re like me, you’re grateful to any bit of technology that does the hard work for you. Here’s the rundown of my favourites for WordPress:
For backing up your work
And let’s start with all that hard work you’ve put in – all those hours of recipe development, cooking, styling and photographing. Imagine if one day you go to log on to your website and it just doesn’t exist any more. All those fabulous recipes never to be seen again. Maybe you’ve been hacked, maybe you’ve accidentally deleted something. Either way you’ve lost the lot. What you need to do is backup your work regularly so that if the worst happens, you can just reload from the previous save.
Updraft Plus – Backup/Restore
This is my plugin of choice for backing up my work. You can manually set it to back up once a week (recommended) – both to your site itself and to an external source such as Dropbox. Also, if you make huge changes to your site one day, you can set up a one-off backup to save that too. Phew.
Vaultpress does charge a little money for its services but it does the same job as Updraft Plus and runs security scans for you. It’s up to you which you use.
It should go without saying that if you’re limited on time for adding plugins or you really don’t know where to start, security should be your number-one priority. Luckily there are ways to easily set up security and leave it running in the background of your site. It’ll block any malicious attacks on your site and alert you if anyone tries to login too.
Antivirus, firewall and malware scanner. Enough said.
Limit Login Attempts
Stop the hackers trying to access your site.
WPS Hide Login
All WordPress sites have the same login page which is basically yoursite/wp-admin. But this little beauty lets you change your login page to anything you like so that the hackers can’t find it in the first place! Genius!
For tracking your growth
Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights
This tracks the number of page views you get per day, plus tells you which pages/recipes are most popular and where your traffic is coming from. It’s indispensable.
For featuring recipes
WP Ultimate Recipe
WordPress’ own plugin for displaying recipes on your site. Customise colours, add photos, change ingredient quantities and explain cooking steps. It’s fully responsive (which means it will display well on mobiles, tablets and laptops) and has an easy-print function too.
For speeding up your site
W3 Total Cache
Improves the visitor experience to your site by speeding up load and download times.
Smush Image Compression and Optimization
All those fancy food pictures may look lovely, but eventually they will slow your site right down. Smush ensures this doesn’t happen by compressing your images upfront.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s basically the bit of the job that gets you ranking in search engines for people to see.
EVERYONE uses Yoast. It’s so user friendly, even for us technophobes. It’s completely free of charge, plus it shows you a preview of how your entry will look on Google so that you can ensure you’re doing everything possible to rank high.
For staying in touch with your audience
Firstly, you need a way that your visitors to your site can contact you and for that you need a good contact form. Most themes don’t come with a built in contact form so you’ll need to download with through a plugin.
Contact Form 7
This is one of the most popular contact forms as you can customise the look of the form and install in anywhere on your website by copying a short code. You can also add/remove CAPTCHA and filter spam too.
When someone does contact you, you’ll need a way to store the messages to read. That’s where Flamingo comes in. It works hand in hand with Contact Form 7. Just activate it and let it do its thing.
Secondly, you want to think about how you will be contacting them. This is where newsletters come in. There will be a number of posts on newsletters to follow, but if you’re looking to integrate a newsletter sign up to your site then the big hitters are:
MailChimp Forms for Optin Cat
This is the plugin I use on my food blog. It can be tailored to match the colour scheme of your site and you can place it in the text of a post, in the footer or in the sidebar – or all three. It’s very easy to use and links up quickly with your Mail Chimp account for newsletters.
Finally, it’s great to allow visitors to interact with your site, both by commenting on recipes and rating your recipes too.
Allows you to add a simple ratings system in the posts or recipes you choose.
A simple system for enabling comments at the bottom of your posts.
You want people to be able to comment on your recipes – it’s good for business and good for fostering community. But, you don’t want to be inundated with adverts for web support, prescription pills and other businesses. Akismet Anti-Spam checks all your incoming comments for you and automatically filters out the ones that look like spam. Leaving you with the professional image you want.
For customising even further
Easy Google Fonts
Still not happy with the fonts offered by your theme? This beauty of a plugin will allow you to specify your fonts even further from the headings to the paragraph text.
Better Font Awesome
Ever seen those funky little icons in the shape of a fork? Or wondered how to put cute ticks (checks) in your lists? That’s Font Awesome doing its work. And it is awesome.
A simple plugin that allows you to make small changes to your text when typing up a post – such as formatting, basic font and text size/colour.
For all those niggly little things
No Self Pings
When you write a blog post, Yoast encourages you to put in links from one article to another – you want to keep people on your site as long as possible. But, every time you do link, you receive a message telling you that someone is linking to your site. Not what you want! No Self Pings is a great tool that stops you receiving the alerts from your own site, and just lets you see the ones from outside.
Sometimes, for various reasons, you need to change the URL (the address) of a particular webpage. Sometimes, you do it by mistake. Either way you’re going to end up with a big fat 404 error that alerts your visitor to a broken link. Redirection is a simple plugin that lets you tell the website to send visitors to a different page when they click on a link that’s no longer active.
Broken Link Checker
Saves you having an embarrassing 404 incident in the first place.
WP Date Remover
Ever skip by a result on Google because the article is a few years old? Yep, me too. But if you remove your dates then you’re more likely to get clicks in the first place!
For making money
Google AdSense is one of the most popular ways to earn money from your blog, by displaying relevant adverts on your website and encouraging visitors to click through to. This is the plugin that makes it all possible.
Amazon Associates Link Builder
If you’re a food blogger, a great way to make some extra money is to recommend products that you use in your own kitchen. Amazon Associates is a great programme for this and this link builder enables you to include links directly to products, within your text.
WordPress says that this “helps you sell anything. Beautifully”. It is the top recommended method of hosting a shop on your website. Vital if you intend to make a bit of extra money with a cookery book, kitchen products or downloads.
For social-media integration
Displays your updated Instagram feed. You can choose how many pictures to show.
Pinterest “Pin it”
A simple “pin it” button will appear on any image on your site when the visitor hovers over it. Great for getting your recipes on Pinterest.
Facebook Like Box
Displays the number of “likes” you have and encourages visitors to “like” your page too.
Simple Share Buttons Adder
Lets you add a link to the bottom of every post (if you want), encouraging people to like, share and comment on your recipes and posts.
How many plugins should I have?
I’ve heard of some people having 50 or more. My main site currently has 20 doing various clever things (most of which are listed here) but bear in mind that the more plugins you have, the slower your site will load. Then you’ll be losing visitors for another reason. Plus, some plugins are more likely to let the hackers in. So, if it’s not absolutely vital, my advice is leave it out, and if you’re not using it, make sure to deactivate and/or delete.
Part 4 of my How to Start a Food blog series is all about Customising your Website. Click here to find out more.
What’s your go-to plugin? Let me know in the comments!