The core of WordPress is designed to be lean and lightweight, to maximize flexibility. Plugins offer custom functions and features so you can tailor your site to your specific needs. This post describes a list of WordPress plugins you should install right away.

This post is part of the Blog Cogs Start Blogging With WordPress Today tutorial.

  1. Start Blogging Today with This WordPress Tutorial
  2. Choosing the Right Domain Name for Your Blog
  3. Registering for a Bluehost Web Hosting Account
  4. How to Install WordPress on Your Domain
  5. Optimizing the WordPress Settings
  6. Installing WordPress Plugins
  7. Install These WordPress Plugins Now!
  8. Choosing and Installing a WordPress Theme
  9. SEO Optimize Your WordPress Blog Posts
  10. Improving Your WordPress Blog Security

Install These WordPress Plugins If You Want Your Blog to Run Smoothly

The following list is just those plugins you’ll need for the smooth running of your blog. You’ll need other plugins later for things like adding affiliate links, managing tags and making images SEO friendly. For now, I recommend you install plugins to accomplish the following tasks (the first two plugins even come preinstalled!)

Spam Filter

If you open your blog to comments (which you must if you want to engage with your readers) you will get spam comments. Probably lots and lots of spam comments. Because spam is such a large problem, there are many different options to combat it. Some prefer to stop it at the source by using CAPTCHA (enter the letters in the picture) or other tick-the-box-to-prove-you’re-not-a-robot plugins. These work okay but they don’t stop spam from people who aren’t robots and, worst of all, they make it harder for people to comment, and, let’s be honest, they’re ugly. There are other anti-spam services, such as Akismet, that don’t stop people commenting, but run hundreds of tests to determine if the comment is spam or ham. You may have a little more moderation to do, but your readers will be happier and your site more beautiful.

Here are a few options for you to consider:

  1. Akismet
  2. Anti-Spam
  3. WPBruiser
  4. WangGuard
  5. WP-SpamShield
The one I recommend is Akismet.

Why?

I’ve been using Akismet for as long as I’ve been blogging. It’s created by Automattic (the company behind WordPress) so you know you can trust it and it’s updated regularly. It just works.

Installation

Akismet comes preinstalled, but you need an API key. Learn how to get one for free in the following post:

Settings

Only two to worry about:

  1. Show number of approved comments beside the author in your dashboard?
    • Yes, why not?
  2. Silently discard the worst spam or put everything in spam folder for approval?
    • I started out shifting through all spam until I realized Akismet was doing such a good job I didn’t need to bother.

General Features

Okay, so there is only one plugin in this category: Jetpack. Jetpack is made by Automattic (the company behind WordPress) and allows you to connect your self-hosted blog to a WordPress.com account (you’ll need to sign up for a WordPress.com account first) and take advantage of all the features usually only available to WordPress.com users. Jetpack boasts 37 features. Some of the most useful are Contact Form (a simple form where people can send you a message), Publicize (connect your social media accounts so your new posts feed to them automatically), Social Sharing (more on this below) and Related Posts (shows related posts at the end of post to keep your visitors on your site).

The one I recommend is Jetpack.

Why?

I don’t need most of the features included with Jetpack, but for those that I do, Jetpack is invaluable. Sure, many of the features can be achieved with separate plugins but I prefer to have an all in one solution.

Installation

Jetpack comes preinstalled, but you need to connect it to a WordPress.com account. This post will show you how to do it:

Settings

Too many to discuss here!


Caching

When a visitor arrives at your blog, PHP (scripting language) recognizes the request and MySQL (database management system) outputs the requested page. This uses both RAM and CPU. If many visitors come to your site, the system uses lots of RAM and CPU which causes the page to render slowly. A cache system generates a static HTML file from your dynamic WordPress blog so the system does not have to render the page again and again every time a new user views a page.

Here are a few options for you to consider:

  1. Cache Enabler
  2. Comet Cache
  3. W3 Total Cache
  4. WP Fastest Cache
  5. WP Super Cache
The one I recommend is W3 Total Cache.

Why?

It’s simple to set up and packed with features. There is also a very good premium version of W3 Total Cache you upgrade to after installing the free version if you want MaxCDN and other features.

Installation

Search and install directly in your WordPress dashboard.

Settings

Tick all the boxes you can in the settings tab. Click here for more information on optimizing WP Fastest Cache. The ones you can’t tick are premium features.


Image Compression

If you want your blog to be visually appealing it’s got to have lots of photos, images, and screenshots. Unfortunately, having a lot of images can seriously slow your site. Compression plugins work by stripping out unnecessary data while maintaining image quality.

Here are a few options for you to consider:

  1. Compress JPEG & PNG images
  2. Imagify Image Optimizer
  3. Optimus – WordPress Image Optimizer
  4. ShortPixel Image Optimizer
  5. WP Smush – Image Optimization
The one I recommend is WP Smush – Image Optimization.

Why?

It’s fast, free, effective and completely automated. Once the plugin is installed, every image you upload is automatically smushed. If you a starting a photo blog or other image-heavy blog, there is also an excellent premium version of WP Smush for $49 per month. As a bonus, this also includes over one hundred premium plugins.

Installation

Search and install directly in your WordPress dashboard.

Settings

Only three to worry about.

  1. Automatically smush my images on upload?
    • Yes
  2. Preserve image EXIF data?
    • No (EXIF data stores camera settings, focal length, etc. If you are a photographer you may want to keep it.)
  3. Resize original images?
    • Yes, if you upload high-res images (which I don’t recommend). No, if, like me, you resize images before uploading them.

Lead Generation

Okay, so this isn’t technically essential for the smooth running of your blog like the other plugins, but I’ve included it here because if you don’t start generating an email list from day one, you’re going to regret it. A lead generator is something that encourages your readers to give you their email address. They can do this in exchange for a free ebook, newsletter or updates, or sometimes just to make the annoying popup box go away. Read this post about the benefits of generating an email list:

Here are a few options for you to consider:

  1. Before And After
  2. Icegram
  3. LeadBoxer
  4. OptinMonster
  5. WordPress Leads
The one I recommend is OptinMonster.

Why?

At just $49 per year for the basic package (which boasts a lot of features), this is a very good deal. There are free plugins available for this function, but because generating an email list is so important I didn’t hesitate in signing up for this premium product. And I haven’t regretted it!

Installation

Search and install directly in your WordPress dashboard, and then create an account at OptinMonster and enter your API key.

Settings

See this post about using OptinMonster for lead generation.


Security

There’s a lot you can do to keep your site safe yourself: choose secure passwords and change them regularly, do not set your username as admin, and always upgrade to the latest version of WordPress (see here for more tips to keep your blog secure), but a good security plugin is essential. This is one area where it is worth spending a little money. If you’ve spent weeks, months, or even years building up your blog, the last thing you want is for a hacker to bring it all crashing down. Invest in a good security plugin.

Here are a few options for you to consider:

  1. Acunetix Secure WordPress
  2. All In One WP Security & Firewall
  3. iThemes Security
  4. Sucuri Security
  5. Wordfence Security
The one I recommend is Wordfence Security.

Why?

It has too many features to count (even the free version), is regularly updated, sends emails when it detects a problem (even a plugin that needs updating). This is, without any doubt, the best WordPress security plugin.

Installation

Search and install directly in your WordPress dashboard.

Settings

There are a lot of settings! Maybe too many for the average user.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

If you’re serious about making money from your blog, everything you do (after making sure your content is great) should be with the aim of your site ranking higher in search engines. This is a huge topic and one which we will be going back to again and again at Blog Cogs. An SEO plugin only scratches the surface but is still an invaluable tool. The plugins below analyze your post content and suggest changes that will make it rank higher in search engines.

Here are a few options for you to consider:

  1. All in One SEO Pack
  2. SEO by SQUIRRLY
  3. SEOPressor
  4. SEO Ultimate
  5. Yoast SEO
The one I recommend is Yoast SEO.

Why?

The free version comes with a dazzling array of features that should be enough for all but the most determined optimizer. At $69 the premium version is a steal. Admittedly, I don’t have much experience with the other plugins in this list. Yoast SEO met my needs so well I’ve never felt the need to change.

Installation

Search and install directly in your WordPress dashboard.

Settings

Optimizing the settings is very straight forward. See this guide for optimizing the Yoast SEO settings.


Social Media Sharing

If people visit your blog and like your content, they might like to share it with their Twitter, Facebook, Google+ followers, thus driving more people to your blog. The more people that visit your blog, the greater your site’s earning potential. Social media sharing buttons give your readers a quick and simple way of sharing your content with their followers. Of course having the best social media sharing plugin is not going to help you if your content stinks . . .

Here are some options for you to consider:

  1. Jetpack
  2. Monarch by Elegant Themes
  3. Share Buttons by AddToAny
  4. SumoMe
  5. Ultimate Social Media Icons
The one I recommend is Monarch by Elegant Themes.

Why?

Clean, elegant design, tons of options, guaranteed not to slow down your site. You can use the native colors or pick your own to match your site. Any of the plugins listed above, including Jetpack, will give your perfectly serviceable social sharing buttons. Monarch just does it more elegantly.

Installation

Sign up for an account at Elegant Themes and select your package. Download the plugin and upload to your dashboard in .zip format. Depending on which package you choose, you also get access to 87 beautiful themes and, with the developer and lifetime options, five extra premium plugins.

Settings


Next: Choosing and Installing a WordPress Theme

If you’ve installed the WordPress plugins listed above, you’re almost ready to start posting your content. But first, you have to choose a theme. This is a really exciting time when you get to decide what your blog will look like. Ready to get creative? Click the button below to get started.

Choosing and Installing a WordPress Theme

About The Author

Cogmaster

David is the founder and editor of Blog Cogs, a blog about making a living from blogging. Learn more about him here.

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