WordPress is the most popular Content Management System, powering approximately a third of the world’s websites in September 2019 according to W3Techs.com. One of its advantages is the ability to quickly add almost any necessary features through the installation of plugins. The WordPress marketplace includes over 50,000 plugins, many of which are free to download with additional premium features available for paying users.
Most WordPress users who spend any time administering a site will hear about the most popular plugins such as Yoast SEO for optimizing search engine performance and Akismet which comes pre-installed with WordPress and reduces spam comments submitted to the site. The following list contains a few other useful types of plugins that you can help you maintain and enhance your site.
Website backups are an important part of site maintenance. Regular backups, especially before making significant design changes, ensure the security of your website data. They can also be an important protection from hackers and outages. Website hosting services will often provide backup services but a backup plugin provides an additional layer of protection and easy access to backups files. A good backup plugin creates a copy of your website and compresses it into a single file that you can save on Google Drive, Dropbox or your own machine. If you have to restore your site, it’s as simple as reinstalling WordPress and the plugin and then restoring the backup file that you’ve made. Some plugins will also enable you to change specific domain URLs and other text throughout the site to help in site migration.
Contact Forms and Other Form Builders
Allowing your visitors to contact you with questions and feedback is important, especially if you’re operating an eCommerce or other business site. A contact form will enable your visitors to send you their questions and then automatically route the messages to the e-mail of your choice. They can also do a great job of filtering out spam and other unwanted messages. If your contact e-mail changes, you simply change it behind the form and the change is invisible to the users. Advanced form builders can help you to gather more information from your visitors as needed such as subscription or survey information.
You’ve probably seen the message bars at the top or bottom of some websites with links to special offers or important information. You can create one of these on your own site with a notification bar plugin. If there’s a message or Call to Action that you want to make sure that all your visitors see such as a newsletter subscription or upcoming event, these bars can be a great, non-intrusive way of making that message very visible. Some plugins enable you to create multiple bars and switch between them as needed.
The longer you run a website, the more likely it is that you will need to delete or rename pages. This can cause problems when visitors follow the outdated search engine links to your site and encounter 404 pages because the page no longer exists. Page redirect plugins let you specify a page to redirect your visitors to so that you can refocus their attention where you want it. The plugins can also specify the redirection code such as 301 or 302 which communicates to the search engine whether the redirect is temporary or permanent. For your own reference, a page redirection plugin might also track the history of failed requests along with the IP and agent information for the requester.
Selecting and Using Plugins Wisely
For any type of plugin you might want to use, there are probably many different titles by different authors and it can be difficult to choose the best plugin. Sometimes, it’s a matter of trial and error. When selecting a plugin, you have the advantage of seeing how many people have previously installed it and the ratings and feedback they’ve submitted. The number of installs is just as important as the number of stars in the rating. A plugin with over 500,000 installs is more likely to have a good community of users who have tested all the features of the plugin and can even answer questions. It’s a good idea to take some time to read through the user reviews to see any specific issues that users might have encountered repeatedly along with the plugin author’s responses.
Another item to pay attention to is how recently and how often the developer has released new versions of the plugin. WordPress itself changes frequently as developers identify issues and add features. A plugin that has not been updated in a year or so might be considered abandoned by its authors. It’s not as likely to maintain its compatibility with the rest of the system and might be open to security issues.
Finally, it’s best to be conservative with the number of plugins you install on your site. While sleek new features can be fun to play with, excessive plugins can make it more difficult to test your site and track down issues that you might be seeing. Forgotten plugins can break a site as the information they depend on, such as e-mail addresses, changes.
It’s also important to stay current with the latest releases of the plugins on your site since some of these changes might involve security issues and other important considerations, so more plugins means more maintenance and testing for your as the site owner. Also remember that every plugin you use is another outside developer whose code you’re allowing to run on your site. In most cases, the community response to a plugin will alert you to any serious issues but, ultimately, it’s your site to maintain.