6 Must have WordPress Plugins and How to Use Them
What you really need
Why reinvent the wheel? There is a lot of experience with wordpress out on the web, a lot of people who had problems and solved them. Have you ever wanted to increase your site speed with one click? Or find a specific line of code in your wordpress installation? Perhaps you want to boost your site ranking a little, but don’t want to deeply get into how. That is where the following plugins and tools come in. These 6 must have wordpress plugins will save your life.
Increasing site speed in 5 minutes
The ranking and user experience of your website, regardless of whether it is a blog or static page partially depends on how fast it loads. Increasing site speed has different levels of difficulty. You can for example:
- Stick with the 1-click solutions
- Go with 1 click solutions that require some configuration
- Go all out on your code and optimize every single thing
Plugin 1 – Caching
Let’s start with the basics, to increase site speed you have to install a caching plugin. Go to the plugins menu and install W3 Total Cache. Sidenote to metrics geeks like me, you can configure the google speed analysis widget before you do this (also in the W3 general settings) if you wan to see before and after speeds. Now let’s go through how to use it, the easy way without questions:
- Enable “Page Cache” as Disk Enhanced
This creates a static version of your page that you can feed to your visitor. Long story short it takes a snapshot of your page. Please keep in mind that after you change your wordpress site, you need to empty this cache. This can be done with 1 click, so no worries.
- Enable Minify
- Enable object cache
This option is particularly important for pages with a lot of dynamic content. If you don’t have that, enabling does no harm anyway.
- Go to the browser cache tab and enable:
- Set expires header
- Set cache control header
- HTTP (Gzip) compression
This is the end of the “within 5 minutes” part. For those of you who are a bit more adventurous, and want a very fast loading page. Let’s go ahead and enable cloudflare. Cloudflare is an external service that does a lot of things. Bottom line, if you know about DNS (or want to) you definitely have to enable this bit. So here we go:
- In the “General” tab of W3T, go to cloudflare (almost at the bottom) and click the link that lets you sign up for a free account.
Cloudflare has paid plans, but their free service works magic already, and is definitely worth the hassle. If you want to support them by getting a paid plan, awesome. If not, no problem, you will benefit a lot anyway.
- Follow the wizard
You will have to fill in your website domain. It will analyze your page and give a list of DNS entries, if any are missing add them. If you have no idea what that page is about, ignore it and just press next. Nothing spooky here.
- Choose your speed and security
I chose bleeding edge speed and medium security. Pick the options that make you feel comfortable. Whatever you do, your page will become faster and more secure.
- Change your DNS server
Cloudflare will give you 2 DNS servers to configure your domain with. How to do this depends on your webhost. Have a look in your domain admin panel. If you can’t figure it out contact the support team.
- Enter your account details into W3TC
Things like your domain and your API key. Please note that the API is not your password, you can find it using the link next to the field. Also make sure your settings in the W3TC cloudflare field match those you chose in your account.
- Give it some time.
Plugin 2 – Image optimization, the easy way
Images are a big part of any visually appealing webpage (exceptions of course exist). Images are sometimes however quite big, impacting page load times. Interestingly you can compress them without losing quality. The problem is that most people do this manually, image by image. I wanted to do this an an existing webpage, with existing images. No problem signor. Enter Yahoo’s awesome tool Smush.it. Originally it was a web based tool where you can upload images, which Smush will compress for you. This is however still a manual process. By now there is a wordpress plugin called WP Smush.it. Go ahead and install it. In your “media” tab there are two ways to use the plugin. You can either select what images to Smush, or you can select “Bult Smust.it”. The bulk Smush option will optimize all your images automatically. It might take some minutes, but it is fully automated.
The SEO gig, being found in Google
A great blog is great, but it is of no use to anyone if it is not found through the relevant channels. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a prerequisite for a well functioning webpage. Alone it doesn’t do much, but combined with good content it is very useful. The problem with SEO is that it is a wide field with a lot of tools and techniques. For a beginner it can be a bit intimidating.
Plugin 3 – Simple SEO for everyone
There are a lot of optimization plugins out there for this purpose. My favorite is the SEO plugin by Yoast. you can get it from the plugin tab in your wordpress backend. once you have installed it each post will have an extra box asking you for:
- Focus keyword
- SEO title
- Meta description
Always set the above items. There are some other things like tags that you want to take care of as well. For a complete checklist of the SEO things to taka are of, check out above linked article.
Plugin 4 – Claiming your work
Welcome to the internet, where people copy paste content like it makes them happy. Claiming your content both builds up an online reputation and prevents people from stealing your content. It gives a little ranking boost and gives you a little photo next to your website in the search results. in the past using these google markups was difficult. By now you can use plugins like Authorsure to take care of this system. They even have free instruction videos in case you run into trouble.
The perils of being a developer
WordPress is awesome, but lacks in some features. As a developer there are some things you find yourself wishing for. The system for example doesn’t let you search all files for a piece of code. It is very user friendly, but developers often need to dig a little deeper. Luckily there are some tools to help with this.
Plugin/Tool 5 – Finding the name of a Div
Web developers often start with a template, and then change it according to their needs. Who would after all want to design an entire theme if templates are available? problems however arise. For example, if you want to delete the main menu from a template but you don’t know the name of the Div. Is it nav-bar, main-nav, manu-nav or perhaps top-bar? In the past you needed separate plugins to find out, by now google chrome has a built in feature. To find out the name and code of a CSS Div all you need to do is right click it and select “inspect element”. This will tell you the source code and the CSS code this div has. You can even delete the Div (ony you will see it) to find out what it would look like if it was gone. Let’s say that the main menu bar is called main-nav.
Plugin/Tool 6 – Finding a line of code in WordPress
Usually you can find a piece of CSS code in the style.css file. However, sometimes it is more complicated than that. Perhaps you are working within a widget or plugin, or maybe the theme has multiple CSS files. How do you search inside wordpress files? How do you find a piece of code in wordpress? Well, linux has a search command called grep to do this. Many people however have no access to their server in that way. The solution: PHP grep. Long story short, it is a PHP file that will search your entire server for a string of text or code. All you need to do is upload the file, enter a piece of text and the script will search your server for that code. In the example above you can enter “main-nav” and the Grep script will tell you in what files that code is present. This script has saved my life multiple times.
Do you have any must have plugins?
What plugins do you find essential for your blog? Is there anything you can’t do without? let us know in the comments!