Four Essential Plugins for WordPress Sites

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WordPress has made a name for itself by providing website owners with a powerful and flexible platform for crafting professional and compelling sites. With more than 73 million WordPress sites on the Internet, it’s clear this popular Content Management System (CMS) is the go-to site building tool for site owners around the world. And while WordPress gives you plenty of options to build a great site “out of the box,” you can improve your site’s performance, along with the experience you provide your users, by customizing your site with plugins.

Every site has individual needs, but every site also benefits from the use of four types of plugins in particular: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Sharing, Spam Reduction, and Backup. We’ve collected a list of popular examples for each of these categories, but since every WordPress site is unique, and no plugin is truly “one size fits all,” remember to research your options carefully to find the one that’s the best fit for you.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

If you’re not using a plugin to help with your site’s SEO, you could be hindering your performance on search engine results pages (SERPs) and, by extension, harming your business. Given that the first result on a typical Google search draws 33% of all traffic for that search, the visitors you want to attract to your site may never even see it listed if it’s too far from the top. To help improve your SERP rankings, you must write every piece of content you want search engines (and customers!) to see—from blog posts to product pages—with SEO best practices in mind.

That said, if you’re not as well-versed in SEO as you’d like, the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast gives you a powerful tool for implementing SEO in your WordPress content. It helps you draft post titles and meta descriptions (with a live preview), so you can see just how your content will appear in Google. Focus keywords let you keep track of how often the most important terms appear in your content (including the heading, URL, and description), and features such as Permalink Clean-up, Robots Meta Configuration, and Breadcrumb Management give you full control over how your content is sorted, indexed, searched, shared, and displayed. You can also customize the plugin further by using modules customized for SEO integration and focused on news, local results, and multimedia.

Price: Free (A premium version, as well as custom add-ons, are available for a fee.)

You May Also Want to Consider: Semper Plugins’ All-in-One SEO Pack Pro, SEO Plugin by Squirrly

Social Sharing

Once you’ve created your intriguing and irresistible content, the next step is to make it as easy to share as possible for your readers. Sharing can definitely lead to sales, but for best results, you need to make those shares count by bringing readers straight to the content instead of, for example, your sales page. Social media sharing is about adding value as well as converting readers into customers, and making it super easy for readers to share the rich, high-quality content you’ve created helps you establish a reputation as a contributor instead of another corporate posting robot looking for a quick sale. With the right social media sharing plugin, your readers can broadcast that tasty and conversion-ready content to their own audiences with just a few clicks. One of the most popular tools for adding easy and customizable sharing to your site is the Digg-Digg plugin from Buffer. Easy to use and configure, and with nearly every share button you can imagine (including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and dozens more), this plugin gives you the same floating “sharebar” found on sites like Mashable. You can configure the bar for horizontal or vertical use, set it to appear on all of your pages (or just a few), and arrange the sharing icons to your exact specifications.

Price: Free

You May Also Want to Consider: Cunjo, GetSocial WordPress Plugin by riyaz

Spam Reduction

If you’ve got a WordPress site, then chances are you’ve had to deal with comment spam. Differing from email spam in content but not in purpose, comment spam can quickly drown out submissions from interested readers, turning away customers, costing you money, and opening you up to security risks via embedded backlinks. Popularity has its price, and the more traffic your site gets, the more attention—positive and negative—it attracts. Beyond adjusting your moderation settings, using spam reduction tool is essential in helping you let the good stuff, i.e., comments and questions from intrigued readers, through to the comments section while keeping a tight leash on junk from spammers and would-be trolls.

The Akismet Anti-Comment Spam plugin runs on the Akismet servers, and is accessed via a unique Application Programming Interface (API) key. The service gives you the ability to sort through all incoming comments for spam and “ham” (i.e., legitimate comments). Using a combination of its spam-busting algorithm (which runs literally hundreds of tests on every single comment submitted to your site) and your own feedback, the software learns which messages and senders are whitelisted and which should go straight to the electronic dustbin. It’s also got advanced reporting and

Price: Free for personal use; fees apply for commercial sites.

You May Also Want to Consider: Mollom, Defensio

Site Backup

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating the perfect site. You’ve got the ideal theme; you’ve configured all your plugins; your eCommerce platform and databases are well-established; and your blog and sales pages are optimized and compelling. Now imagine what would happen if it all just vanished in one fell swoop. As the owners of more than 90,000 WordPress sites discovered in 2013, a hack attack can leave you with a broken, vandalized, or totally deleted site. And without a backup file, you—and your business— are dead in the virtual water.

It’s a scenario that plays out all too often due to malicious attacks, user error, or problems with your hosting provider. Many providers include regular backups as a part of their hosting packages, but installing your own backup management plugin is a good idea if you want to truly protect your content and your investment in your site.

Billed as “the premiere WordPress plugin,” BackupBuddy lets you back up and restore your entire WordPress installation—including your themes, widgets, plugins, media files, posts, and databases—to (or from) a single location. This versatile backup solution lets schedule backups and send them to an FTP server, Dropbox, Amazon S3, RackSpace cloud, or even to your email. You can also create a direct backup on your PC, allowing you to keep a copy offline as well as in the cloud. And when it’s time to restore your files, you can choose to restore your entire site, or just select files that may have been corrupted or deleted.

Price: Licenses start at $80.

You May Also Want to Consider: WordPress Backup to Dropbox, UpdraftPlus

Using plugins lets you take advantage of the nigh-infinite customizability of WordPress and build a successful online presence for your company. And making sure you’ve got the basics covered for SEO, social media, anti-spam, and backup options is not only smart, but necessary for both your business and your peace of mind. Take the time to research and install the best options for you from each of these categories, and you’ll soon find your WordPress site is plugged into a brighter future.

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