7 essential WordPress plugins for your small business website

I’m a web designer based in Wickford, Essex, and I build and maintain WordPress websites for small businesses. In this article I’m going to explain what WordPress plugins are, why these are used, and tell you which ones I like to deploy on every small business website that I build.

So tell me about WordPress Plugins

Plugins are code modules which extend the core functionality of a website. With more than 55,000 plugins available in the official WordPress repository, you can really customise your website. Some plugins are widgets which are visible on the website, things like forms, image carousels and interactions with social media. Other plugins add functionality behind the scenes – to the ‘back end’ as it’s known – such as website security and backups.

Lots of plugins are completely free to use, whilst other ‘freemium’ ones let you use the basic functionality for free, but you will need to pay to unlock the advanced features.

How do I choose which plugins to install?

Anyone can create a plugin and add it to the official WordPress repository. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who create innocent-looking plugins that also contain hidden code which will allow them to hack into your website, known as malware. Whilst checks for this are made, it’s still possible for a plugin containing malware to be made available in the repository. To avoid this happening to you, I would recommend that you use the following criteria when choosing which plugins to install.

A high number of active installations

The more popular the plugin, the less likely it is to contain malware. A minimum of 100,000 active installations is a good rule of thumb.

Last update & compatibility

The plugin should have been recently updated, and tested with the latest version of WordPress. Old plugins which haven’t been updated for a while are more likely to contain outdated code which can be compromised by hackers.

Rating

Shortlist those plugins with at least a 4 star rating. Then read the reviews to make sure that the plugin meets your requirements, and that there are no issues you need to be aware of.

How many plugins can I install?

There’s no right or wrong answer when deciding how many plugins to install on your WordPress website, but you’ll need to find the right balance. Installing too many of them will slow your site down, which isn’t great for your visitors, and having a slow site will also count against you when Google and other search engines are analysing your site. You should also bear in mind that the more plugins you install, then the more plugins you’ll need to keep updated.

My 7 essential plugins

To help you decide which plugins you should use, here are the plugins which I like to install for every new project.

WordFence – Firewall & Malware Scan

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What does this plugin do?

WordFence is a must-have WordPress security plugin:

  • it has a firewall to stop hackers accessing your site’s files on the web server
  • the daily malware scan will check that you haven’t inadvertently installed any files that shouldn’t be there
  • you can add controls for when people log into your website, such as 2 factor authentication and reCaptcha
  • it can be configured to send you email alerts in certain situations – such as when an admin user logs on

Once you’ve installed and configured the plugin, it happily runs away in the background protecting your site.

Why do I need it?

Wordfence is a very powerful (and free) plugin, which will stop all but the most determined hackers from compromising your website. With this installed, the typical hacker will give up and move onto the next site.

Easy HTTPS (SSL) Redirection

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What does this plugin do?

Installing a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate on your web server will encrypt all traffic between your visitor’s web browser and your website. When you have an SSL certificate installed, your visitor will see a padlock in the address bar, and the URL will begin https rather than http.

If one of your visitors accidentally types http instead of https or clicks on an old link, then this plugin will enable the SSL encryption and force the URL to the https one.

Why do I need it?

When a visitor tries to connect to your website using http, their web browser will more than likely display a big warning saying that your site isn’t secure, in which case they will probably move on to another site. Using this plugin will make sure that this doesn’t happen.

UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore

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What does this plugin do?

UpdraftPlus will let you schedule backups of your website, and enables you restore a backup should the need arise. The free version will let you backup your website up to Dropbox or Google Drive, whilst the premium version lets you back up to other cloud providers and also use FTP, enabling you backup your site to your desktop computer. Top tip: if you synchronise Dropbox or Google Drive with a folder on your computer, then this will automatically copy backups across.

Why do I need it?

There are lots of scenarios when you may need that backup. You might be updating your website with new content or a new theme and it all goes horribly wrong. Or, worst case, your website gets hacked. Check out my article on why you need to backup your WordPress Website.

WP Fastest Cache

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What does this plugin do?

When a visitor wants to view your website, their browser sends a request to your web server which then works out which files to return and display in their browser: the header, menu and logo, some text and images along with widgets from other plugins, like a contact form for example. As the server needs to process these requests, it takes vital seconds for the complete page to be returned to your visitor’s browser.

This is where a WP Fastest Cache plugin comes into play. It instructs the server to store some files on the server so that it can remember and duplicate the same content, without having to work it out every time. This is known as caching. Caching will make your pages will load much faster, as it reduces the amount of work the server needs to do.

Why do I need it?

Page load times are super-important because these days few people will wait more than a few seconds for a page to load. Websites that take a long time to load also get penalised by search engines, so caching is a critical component of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Native Lazyload

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What does this plugin do?

Native Lazyload is a WordPress plugin developed by Google, and will make your website serve up images in such a way that your visitor’s browser can load these very quickly.

Why do I need it?

As already mentioned, page load times are critical for SEO. This plugin will ensure that images load in your visitors’ web browsers as quickly as possible.

Google Site Kit

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What does this plugin do?

This plugin is also developed by Google, and lets you set up and configure Google Analytics and Search Console. It’s a mine of information, giving you a detailed insight into how many people visit your website, the pages they view, how many times your pages appear in Google’s results pages and loads, load more.

The information is displayed on a series of comprehensive, but easy-to-understand dashboards.

Why do I need it?

You need to see what return your website is giving you on your investment. If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it – as they say!

The analytics shown on Site Kit will show what’s working and what’s not, helping you to decide which areas of your website need to be improved.

Yoast SEO

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What does this plugin do?

Yoast SEO lets you optimise individual pages on your website for the keywords that you want to rank for on Google and other search engines. The free version will score your content based on one keyword, and it will also let you control how your site appears in the search engine results pages (data known as meta tags). The premium version lets you enter multiple keywords per page, and has lots of other features which would come in useful if you were going to invest in SEO for your website.

Why do I need it?

Without meta tags, the search engines results page would only display the first part of the first paragraph of your page, which is unlikely to encourage people to click on your site. Updating your meta tags in Yoast lets you control just how your pages appear on the results pages, increasing the likelihood that people will click on your page.

Recap

In this article we’ve looked at what WordPress plugins are, and why it’s important to make sure you’re using the right plugins. Using the 7 plugins I’ve shown you above will give your website firm foundations on which you can build a fast and secure website.

If your website is in a bit of a mess plugins-wise, and you’d like me to redesign it for you then please get in touch – I’d love to hear from you!

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