Let’s talk about WordPress plugins.
As a WordPress designer and front-end developer, I have this weird… love/hate relationship with plugins.
But let’s be honest, who has the time to sit down and hand-code all this?
Not this side-blogger!
And who has the money to hire a developer to custom code all these plugins?
Not this side blogger!
Who has the time to sit down and merge plugin files or hire a developer to do so?
NOT THIS SIDE-BLOGGER!!!
Yeah, you get the picture.
So, yes, I’ve decided to bite down the bullet and make my peace with WordPress plugins.
To make things easier, safer, and essentially more productive for you and your blog, it helps to make sure that the plugins you use are of high quality, and are essential for your blogging needs.
So, in today’s blog post, I’ve decided to talk about WordPress plugins, red flags to watch out for, and a list of a few awesome plugins that I personally use, and you could use too to make your blogging life easier and more productive.
What are WordPress Plugins?
WordPress plugins are pieces of software, written in the PHP programming language, which is also the programming language of WordPress core files. This ensures that plugins integrate seamlessly with WordPress.
These plugins come in “packages”. Usually, they are a set of files zipped up as one file. You can install these plugins straight from the WordPress dashboard, or download them separately and then upload into your WordPress. Once you activate these plugins, they add new or extended features and functionalities to your website.
How to Make Sure Your Plugins are High Quality
The thing about plugins is that anyone with a little PHP knowledge can write one. And that’s exactly why there are so many of them. If you can think of a feature or functionality, you bet someone’s made a plugin for that already.
However, often times these plugins are unreliable. Maybe they’re poorly coded and are vulnerable to attacks. Some of them bloat your website unnecessarily, making your site slower and bringing down the performance level. Maybe the plugin creator made one plugin and then got bored of it and never updated them (#1 cause for a plugin to not work well with your website and eventually break something). Some other plugin authors are just plain lazy and do not bother to prepare documentation to help a user. These are all red flags and you should avoid such plugins at all cost.
How to tell the good plugins from the bad ones?
You should check for the following whenever you’re installing a new plugin:
- Do not download a plugin from an external site (unless it is a paid plugin from a reputable source. More on this later.) Always download from WordPress plugins repository, or better yet, install a plugin straight from your WordPress dashboard. For a detailed description of how to install a plug straight from your dashboard, refer to this blog post: How to Install Plugins to Self-Hosted WordPress Sites.
- Not all plugins from the WordPress repository (or via dashboard) are safe plugins either. Check for the following:
- How many active users does a plugin have? — Try not to install anything with less than a couple of thousand active users.
- Has the plugin been tested with the latest WordPress version? If not, ditch it. (Sometimes when a new WordPress version comes out, it may take a plugin a couple of weeks to a couple of months to test their plugin. If you have been using a plugin for some time and suddenly you notice that it hasn’t been tested for a few months, it may be that the plugin author is waiting for a more stable WordPress version. However, be cautious and keep an eye on it. If it hasn’t been tested or updated in more than six months, it may be time to look for a different plugin.)
- When was the plugin last updated? Ditch anything that hasn’t been updated in over 6 months.
- What’s the PHP version requirement? You shouldn’t use anything that doesn’t have a minimum requirement of PHP version 5+.
- Does the plugin have a good rating? Avoid anything with a rating less than 4.
How do you check the stats?
For all plugins in the WordPress repository, there are two easy ways to check their stats.
One of the ways is to check these stats on the plugin page.
- In the WordPress plugin repository main page, type in the plugin name in the search bar, then hit “Enter” key on your keyboard.
- From the search results, click on the correct plugin that you’re looking for. Now, you should see all the stats as shown below:
The other method is to check the stats from within your dashboard.
- When you’re adding a new plugin, go to Dashboard > Plugins > Add new.
- In the search bar of this page, type in the plugin name and hit “Enter” key.
- From the list of results, click on the “More Details” link for the right plugin (that you’re trying to install), as shown below. A pop-up lightbox will open up with all the stats shown.
How to tell if a premium (paid) plugin is good or bad?
Some premium (paid) plugins cannot be downloaded from the repository or your dashboard (The ones you can download from your dashboard are the ones you can see on the repository). But the plugin website should have some hints as to whether they’re a quality plugin or not. Typically you’ll want to pay for a plugin by an author or company who has at least a few plugins out there. If so, check to see what the other plugins are, and check their stats for the points mentioned above.
Most reputable plugin authors should have at least a couple of free plugins that you are able to download from the repository. If those have stellar stats then chances are you’ll be fine with their premium products as well.
For example, take the plugins Convert Plus and Convert Pro. These are both premium plugins and you’re not able to find them or install them via WordPress repository. However, On closer inspection, you can see on their website that these plugins are made by “Astra” — a name well-recognized in the WordPress community. They have multiple premium plugins and their flagship product — a WordPress template called “Astra” (in fact, TSB is designed with Astra as a base) — is an amazing product with regular updates and high quality features even on the free version.
If you cannot figure out whether a company/author is reputable, try asking people in your network or community and see if someone is already using it and what they have to say for them.
When in doubt, leave it out. It’s not worth risking. A poorly coded and ill-maintained plugin could be the easiest way to get your site hacked or broken. It’s not worth the trouble. I’m sure you’ll find a similar plugin from a reputable source to do the job just as well.
A List of Plugins that Are Especially Useful for Bloggers
As bloggers, we often have needs for specific features and functionalities. The more we grow, the more we seem to have a need for such special functions. Here’s a list of some of the common (and FREE) plugins that most bloggers will find extremely useful across all niche.
Do note that the plugins mentioned below are all IN ADDITION to the essential plugins that I recommend for all WordPress bloggers. You can see a list of the essential plugins right here.
In WordPress, you’re able to change your post and page URL base and slug, however, not for the author pages. The default author page base is “author” and the slug is the URL. Now, this can be problematic because all a malicious hacker needs to do to get a hold of your username is to go to your author page. You don’t want that though, do you? That’s why, it’s useful to change that slug to something else… such as your first name or a nickname.
Now, in case I totally lost you earlier, let me tell you a little about “base” and “slug”.
Often you’ll see this structure of URL for blog posts and pages:
In the above URL, the first part “thesideblogger.com” is the actual domain and the part that follows inside two forward slashes, “blogging-mistakes” is the slug.
However, for things like tags, categories, products, specific post types, and author pages, you’ll see something like this:
The above is a URL to a category called “blogging”. In this URL, after the domain, you have “category” inside the first set of forward slashes. This is called “Base”. This is followed by the slug which in this case is “blogging”. So, here’s what a typical URL with both base and slug looks like:
For an author page, WordPress default URL structure is this:
But our goal here is to hide “someusername123” for an imaginary user called Sarah Jenkins. Let’s say we want this to look like the following:
To do this, we need to install and activate the plugin called Edit Author Slug. Once activated, this plugin adds several options for user slug inside the user page (go to Dashboard > Users, then click on the username. Scroll down until you see the section “Edit Author Slug”.) Change the slug as you will from the options and then save. You can also change the base from “author” to something else by going to the plugin settings (from under Dashboard > Settings).
It is often useful to add a table of contents to blog posts, especially if you have long posts with many sections and sub-sections. This plugin adds a table of content option in the editor menu of the post and page editors, and you can add a table of content as easily as with a click of a button.
The plugin comes with different styles that you can play with from within its settings. It also allows you to automatically add a table of content without you having to do it manually. Personally, I prefer to add it manually because I don’t always want a table of content on all my posts, and I also want to have more control over where I insert this table of content.
If you want to turn off the automatic insertion (the default is auto-insertion), then go to the plugin settings from Dashboard > Settings > Table of Contents, then from the tabs shown in this page, select the one that says “Auto Insert”. You’ll be able to enable or disable this feature by checking or unchecking the box. Make sure to save changes.
This plugin has been wonderful so far. But do keep in mind, this plugin ONLY WORKS WITH SiteGround [affiliate]. If you’re with any other hosting provider, this plugin will not work for you.
SG Optimizer links with your Siteground hosting and improves performance (yet another reason to host your WordPress blog with SiteGround).
This plugin enables a bunch of things that make your site load faster, perform better, and overall, is a great way to implement some of the performance features available to you with your hosting package with SiteGround. A few of these services are not available on other hosting providers or are paid add-ons, but with SiteGround, you get them for totally FREE! So, I highly recommend you to make use of this plugin and the features.
There are 4 areas of optimization available within the settings of this plugin. I’m attaching screenshots for each, so you know exactly what I’ve done. Do note that I don’t have any of the image optimizations turned on. Keeping these features on gives me an error when I try to upload new images. Instead, I run the image optimizer once a month for ALL images which essentially takes care of the images I’ve added the preceding month.
To set up the plugin for maximum performance increase, go to Dashboard > SG Optimizer, and then select the settings as shown in the images below for each of the categories.
This plugin adds a button on in the post editor page that allows you to add a bunch of features/functionalities within your blog post by using a shortcode. Things like adding a table, inserting dropcaps or pullquotes are as easy as a click of a button with this plugin.
Below you can see where the button is added. Depending on whether you’re using the Gutenburg editor or the classic editor, you’ll find the buttons as shown below:
Speaking of the classic editor, as you all know, WordPress has just had a major update earlier when they introduced the Gutenburg editor. This is great as it shows WordPress is moving towards a more user-friendly, block-style editor. This is great for those who’re not HTML/CSS savvy. But this is still very much a work in progress, and I find the Gutenberg editor a bit lacking in the user-friendly department.
That’s why I’ve chosen to add the Classic Editor plugin which reverts the editor back to the classic style while keeping the WordPress core files up to date.
One of the major ways to monetize a blog is by affiliate marketing. Thirsty affiliate plugin is a great plugin that allows you to use a short link using your own domain for your long and ugly affiliate links. For example,
Your long and ugly affiliate link that looks something like this:
You can change the base (in the example above, the base is /go/) to anything you want. Setup is super easy. Go to Dashboard > ThirstyAffiliate, then click on new Affiliate Link. Then add your destination URL and save, and you’re good to go.
To change the base, go to the plugin settings, and from the “Link Appearance” tab, choose a link prefix of your choice or use a custom prefix.
You can also make all affiliate links “nofollow” links by default using this plugin. Simply make sure that the “Use no follow on links” box says “yes” in the plugin Settings > Link Appearance page (shown below).
*Note: you’re required by law to make all your affiliate links nofollow links.
When you want to add your affiliate link, use the green “TA” button in the post/page editor to insert the links.
Another great plugin for bloggers. This plugin allows you to make a link “nofollow” (tells the search engine to not influence the ranking of the link target). When you add a link, you can either add a rel=”nofollow” attribute directly to the link by editing the HTML, or use this plugin.
(As mentioned above, the Thirsty Affiliate plugin has an option to make all affiliate links no-follow links by default, however, you may still want to use this attribute on some or all external links, and this plugin makes doing so really easy.)
When you activate this plugin, it directly adds a “nofollow” checkbox in the link popup box. Make sure to check the box when you’re adding the link and that’s it!
I often find myself editing and updating older links. Maybe I want to change target keywords or optimize link slug for better search performance, or whatever the case may be. The thing is, every time I change a link, it runs the chance of causing broken link on my site which can have negative ramifications in terms of SEO.
This plugin makes it super easy to permanently redirect URLs that I change. All I have to do is add a 301 redirect for the old URL to the new URL.
To do this, go to Dashboard > Trash Duplicates > 301 Redirects, then add the Request (old link slug) and then the Destination (new link slug), then save it.
This adds a nice author bio at the end of every blog post. Pretty straight forward to set up. By default, it shows the user avatar. You can write the bio inside the user page in the dashboard.
And that’s it. Nine WordPress plugins that a blogger could use to enhance functionality and aesthetics.
Do you have a plugin or two that you use and love? Share with us in the comments below!