WordPress’s real strength is its vast network of plugins. Of the top 1,000,000 websites in the world, 26.3% or 255,083 of 969,765 are run on WordPress (builtwith.com stats May 2018).
It’s the same reason Apple and Android own the cellular phone market, they have the best array of apps that help clients extend the functionality of their phones. For online CMS, Content Management Systems like WordPress, plugins provide that extension of functionality.
When you first install WordPress on your website host it usually comes with a few default plugins installed.
Typically Hello Dolly, Akismet and Contact Form 7. Akismet at $7 a month is a recommended spam eliminator. Depending on your website’s setup, spam on WP can be a real issue. As for Contact Form 7, we usually disable it in favor of other WordPress contact form options unless we’re starting from a theme with installed demo content that utilizes the Contact Form 7. Hello Dolly just gets disabled 🙂
If you install one of the newer, more popular themes like Avada, BeTheme, 7 Theme or Enfold, then you may receive a number of included plugins that help build the look and functionality that is displayed in their demos.
In 2018, these WordPress plugin groups consist of:
- Slider plugins like Slider Revolution.
- Visual builders like WP Bakery’s Page Builder that help novice website builders create stunning websites without knowing any CSS or scripts.
- Contact forms – Typically, Contact Form 7 will also be included. Contact Form 7 is a free and a very popular WordPress contact form.
While some themes will come with many more plugins, the core plugins above form the most commonly used plugins to create the theme demos that many builders start with.
With the sheer amount of WordPress websites that we have developed, designed or somehow had a hand in; we know the plugins that will make your website successful. Many plugins can cause conflicts with others, take your website down or usually, the issue is they just don’t work the way you want them to. That’s why we stick to the plugins we recommend here because it allows us to work efficiently and without the headaches of unexpected conflicts.
WordPress Visual Design Plugins
Visual Builder – there are a few of these “visual builders” that are well developed and supported. Our preference is WP Bakery’s Page Builder because in our opinion it is the best of the bunch. It is also the most common WordPress visual builder to be bundled with themes.
Here’s the big question – should you use a visual builder? Should you use it even if you can hand code whatever design you want? The quick answer is yes, most of the time.
Visual builders allow small businesses to build a gorgeous, responsive, highly-functional website without paying through the nose for it. Some of the websites we create for businesses would be prohibitively expensive if built by hand. There are benefits to having a unique – just yours website designed from scratch based on the needs of your brand. A website like that starts at +/- $7500 and easily goes into the multiple tens of thousands of dollars.
Using a visual builder allows you to templatize the design of similar pages within your site, saving a lot of time on the build. It allows for the easy building of website display elements around the content and it makes changes/edits simple. While we don’t recommend it for larger brands or companies that can afford a fully “from-scratch” website. For small to medium size businesses that want to compete with larger companies in design, functionality, and speed, a WordPress website created using a visual builder helps level the playing field.
Slider Revolution – We’ve used every slider plugin out there. There are a couple of distant 2nds to Slider Revolution but for the look, flexibility, and support, Slider Revolution is the best WordPress slider plugin. Please understand that Revolution Slider is more complicated to use and the huge range of options means you might devote more time to building the slider. The end result, however, will undoubtedly be better.
WordPress eCommerce Store Plugins
WooCommerce – there are other e-commerce plugins for WordPress but we cant imagine using them. Woo is the best developed and supported. Not to mention WooCommerce is the most commonly bundled WordPress e-commerce software in paid WordPress themes. There is a whole industry devoted to WooCommerce plugins and integrations for gateways, shipping, and other WordPress plugins. Bottom-line if you’re going to run e-commerce on WordPress use WooCommerce as your store’s backend.
WordPress Contact Form Plugins + Call Now Button
Believe it or not, contact forms can often be that complicating bit that slows your new website’s release. Sometimes hosting companies, GoDaddy is known for this, have server settings that make it difficult to send email from the website. Below the contact plugins are a few recommended related plugins that save messages, make it easier to send or connect the website to mailing list websites like Constant Contact or MailChimp.
Gravity Forms – this plugin dominated WordPress contact forms for a long time. 5 years ago if you wanted to build a professional form on WordPress, well then you installed Gravity Forms. It gave you the functionality and design options that were just not available elsewhere at the time. Well, it’s 2018 and it’s still the best. There are other comparable options now available in 2018.
Formcraft – this is our current form plugin that we turn to if the client needs more than a simple contact form. It is an easy to use WordPress plugin, as WordPress form plugins go. Its considerably easier to build a complicated form in Formcraft than say a more basic program like Contact Form 7.
Contact Form 7 – for basic website contact us forms, newsletter signups or simple lead capture forms, Contact Form 7 will do the job. Its usually a bit trickier to set up Contact Form 7 and the look needs are modified through manual CSS changes. That said, its free and often bundled with free and paid WordPress themes.
Flamingo – We never want clients to miss a contact, signup, lead or sale from the website. Occasionally forms on WordPress websites fail, we know this because we’ve experienced it. Could be a bad initial setup, email blacklisting, automatic WordPress updates, plugin updates etc. Flamingo stores all messages submitted to the website in a separate backend dashboard, keeping them safe in the event of an email issue.
WP SMTP – this is a great plugin to use if your Contact Form 7 or other form is having an issue sending emails or contacts from the forms. It changes the way WordPress sends messages, giving you the ability to connect the website to an email account to send and receive messages. Using Contact Form 7 on GoDaddy hosting service? Then you will need this plugin in order to send and receive messages through the companies contact forms.
Need to connect your WordPress website newsletter signups and contact forms to Constant Contact or MailChimp? Try their recommended WordPress plugins to connect your mailing list to your website subscription forms.
Call Now Button – this plugin adds a very visible “Call Now – 416-889-7812” button to the bottom of the website pages on mobile devices. While not appropriate for all websites, its perfect for local businesses or phone-call heavy businesses.
WordPress SEO Plugin
Yoast SEO – there are quite a few WordPress SEO plugins out there. Many are very good and do exactly what they say they do. That said, I’m an old hat and Joost de Valk from Yoast has kept his well supported and free product at the forefront of functionality. We highly recommend it and include it this WordPress SEO plugin with every WordPress website that we build.
The only time I would recommend against using Yoast is when the theme has its own built out SEO functions like editing meta tag titles and page descriptions. No need to duplicate the functionality or risk a plugin conflict.
Velvet Blues – we have had months where we migrate a number of websites from beta to live. When going from https://Bluetide.ca/new-website to https://newwebsite.com, the number of links that need to be changed within the WordPress MySQL database can be in the multiple hundreds. We used to do this with a set of MySQL queries we would run on the database directly. Including backups and prep – proofreading changes etc it would take 30 mins to complete. With Velvet blues it takes maybe 30 seconds – we really appreciate this one.
Simple 301 – ok admittedly there are newer plugins that have a few more related functions. The thing is I almost never need those other functions like redirecting 404’s or logging hack attempts. What I need is something to manually add up to 50 redirects following a website redesign where the URLs have changed and need to be redirected to the new correct URL. I have used this plugin to do just that since 2012 and have never had an issue.
WordPress Load Speed & WordPress Caching Plugins
We primarily host on Siteground now which has its own cache plugin built-in to new WordPress websites, SG Cache. It is not as effective as Fastest Cache or W3 but it’s on par with Super Cache and just as easy to use. If you are not on Siteground hosting then I would use one of the 3 below. They are listed in order of complexity. Please understand that W3 Cache is very powerful and can take down your site if you’re not careful. It is also the best at speeding up WordPress website load times.
Super Cache – the easiest to use of the 3 WordPress Cache plugins we recommend. It is very easy to setup and run. It doesn’t have the same array of options that W3 has but its also much more stable in use.
W3 Cache – if you look around at other websites that discuss the W3 Cache plugin you will see similar warnings about using it. This plugin can easily take down a website with the wrong settings. Warning aside, if you need load speed improvement and the other plugins aren’t good enough, it is likely that W3 will reduce load times for you. It is very effective. The difference and worry lie in the assortment of options that this WordPress caching plugin gives you.
***If you are going to use W3 then we recommend reading their documentation thoroughly and if you’re still unsure ask a local Canadian WordPress developer to set it up for you. If by chance you have installed and turned on the W3 Cache plugin only to have your website go down, then call us we know the fix and don’t charge much to do it.
WP Smush – this great little program goes through your images and optimizes them for website load speed by reducing their size. The images are still clear enough to maintain your visuals while reducing the size enough to reduce load times as measured by Google’s Page Speed Insights.
Web Hosting Services For WordPress & Loading Speed
We have used these website hosting services extensively over the last 15 years:
- WP Engine
Website load speed is a huge issue for the WordPress CMS. You can build a highly functional WordPress website with 20+ plugins and an image heavy design that still loads fast. Fast for clients to aid engagement and fast for Google to rank your website higher. The trick is in using the right combination of website hosting service + optimized images + cache plugin working together. For most clients, we recommend Siteground + using WP Smush on your images + cache plugin to deliver a Google speed rating of A. For clients with high traffic needs or high speed needs like a large, heavily trafficked e-commerce website we recommend considering WP Engine. They are the cream of the crop for WordPress hosting and come to the table with hundreds of WordPress experts that man the chat, a super-easy to use backend dashboard and WordPress website load speeds that are industry leading. I would certainly recommend that companies with WordPress site(s) considering cloud hosting or dedicated hosting consider WP Engine. They can often get the fast hosting they need without the huge expense. That said, for the average small business WP Engine hosting is overkill and is prohibitively expensive based on our client’s response to their monthly pricing.
So we recommend Siteground for most small to mid-size businesses and WP Engine for corporate / enterprise / high traffic e-commerce businesses that need it. For the other web hosting services listed above, we have a sizeable list of complaints. First being load speed but there’s also resource limits, strange items unique to each host like GoDaddy turning off localhost email sending (what WP uses) by default or absolutely terrible support like 1and1, HostGator and Bluehost.
We (I) have literally lost it on web hosting companies in the past trying to help my clients. So trust me when I say I stand behind our choice of Siteground & WP Engine.
WordPress Security Plugins
https://builtwith.com is a website that tracks website software usage online and provides rough statistical data on worldwide usage. If you check Builtwith.com you will see that WordPress as the CMS platform for 26.3% of websites of the top 1,000,000 websites worldwide. That’s a huge number and a huge target for hackers that want to exploit them.
In 2013 our 1and1 hosting account got hacked with a Python script that infected all of the 22 websites on that host. I spent a week cleaning it up. The hackers were able to get in by exploiting a badly written piece of code in WordPress slider plugins called timthumb.php. Through timthumb they could get access to other parts of the file system. There it created multiple replicating copies of itself that I had to dig out manually. Fun stuff it was. Thankfully simple exploits like that on WordPress are not common anymore. It has been at least 2 years since we have had a security issue on any of our WordPress websites. Now, of course, we have a few things we do when we set up a website to provide the additional protection that we think clients need.
Really worried about WordPress Security? Consider using Sitegroung website hosting service.
JetPack – this plugin is provided by WordPress.com to add a number of cool features to your WordPress website. We don’t always install this plugin as it is a big plugin and can add some load time if not well set up. The features we use when we do install it are typically the social sharing icons and the auto-sharing to social profiles. Both are features we usually only add to websites if we will also be promoting them with SEO – search engine optimization.
WordFence – is the most popular WordPress security plugin. We install it by default on most websites we build. This plugin takes care of a number of security tasks needed to keep the hackers at bay. Wordfence features an endpoint firewall & malware scanner, an update feed that keeps WordFence loaded with the newest firewall rules, malware signatures and suspicious IP addresses it uses to maintain your WordPress websites’ security.
We have designed, developed or otherwise been involved in more than 500 WordPress websites at this point in May 2018. That kind of exposure has given us a perspective on WordPress plugins that is unmatched. Our time-tested experience has been hardened by our current strategy of delivering low-cost WordPress websites to Canadian businesses.
If you’re looking to have a WordPress website designed or need a WordPress website updated/fixed/made responsive or mobile ready/ AMP news ready…whatever. We have literally seen everything under the WordPress Sun. Call us today – 416-889-7812.