The Ultimate WordPress Plugins Guide: How They Work & Which To Use

November 11, 2022
By John Hawley
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WordPress plugins are one the biggest reasons why the WordPress platform is so popular… and why it’s so powerful. 

It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of WordPress, after all, it’s our platform of choice. 

But there’s a good reason why, as WordPress powers 64% of all websites that use a CMS (content management system) across the world, and 43% of websites across the entire world. And because the WordPress platform is open source, developers can extend the base functionality or create new features for websites using WordPress.

Of course, not everyone is a developer. But with plugins — you don’t need to be!

This is only possible because of the extensive catalog of WordPress plugins. There’s probably a plugin for pretty much any functionality your website needs. It’s been nearly 20 years since WordPress introduced the plugin architecture, so as you’d expect, they’ve had some time to grow a massive catalog over the years.

But what exactly is a plugin?

What’s a WordPress Plugin?

WordPress plugins are third-party software that extends or adds functionality that doesn’t exist within the basic WordPress framework by “plugging into” your website (hence, the name). 

Think of WordPress plugins like apps on your smartphone. By default, your phone may not come with an app that allows you to track what you eat daily. But by going to the App Store, you’ll quickly find an option that works for you within seconds. 

Just like the App Store, you can access the WordPress Plugin Directory through your site’s dashboard and have access to tens of thousands of plugins that can enable your website to do anything from eCommerce to social media and beyond.

Where WordPress Plugins Excel

Easier implementation (which saves you time & money)

The website design process can be complicated, but as we mentioned before — you don’t need to be a developer or have any in-depth knowledge of coding on the web in order to implement WordPress plugins. There are many plugins that are simply plug-and-play. Long gone are the days of needing to invest months of time and money in order to painstakingly develop custom functionality for your website. Since WordPress plugins are much quicker to implement, it’s often much more cost-effective to use a plugin rather than coding from scratch. As the saying goes, “there’s no need to reinvent the wheel”.

There’s probably a plugin for that

Are you building a new website and need to add a calendar feature? The Events Calendar has you covered. Building an eCommerce site? Yep, you guessed it — WooCommerce will handle the heavy lifting for you. Do you want to create a membership website where content is restricted to paying customers? You can use Restrict Content Pro to lay the foundation for creating a site with paid memberships.

This is only possible because of the extensive catalog of WordPress plugins. There's probably a plugin for pretty much any functionality your website needs. It’s been nearly 20 years since WordPress introduced the plugin architecture, so as you’d expect, they’ve had some time to grow a massive catalog over the years.

Okay, you get the idea — we won’t belabor the point! As you can tell, outside of truly niche or groundbreaking technologies, you can expect there to be WordPress plugins for it already.

They are frequently in development

Well-established plugins from reputable companies or a team of developers are continuously being worked on and receive new features as time goes on. So not only does this mean the technology will always be up-to-date, but you’ll also be getting new features to expand your site’s development. For example, our recommended web form plugin, WP Forms, has been around for years and is still improving and expanding its capabilities – well beyond simple forms. They are usually thinking ahead of what users might need. Vetted plugin developers are also listening to their audience and making updates based on feedback.

When To Be Careful With Plugins

While it is true that there’s no shortage of great options available to download in the WordPress plugin directory, it’s also true that there are quite a few you should try to avoid using. As we mentioned, any developer can create a plugin for a WordPress site because WordPress is open source. Because of the sheer amount of options available, it’s important to be judicious when choosing which plugins to use.

This is only possible because of the extensive catalog of WordPress plugins. There's probably a plugin for pretty much any functionality your website needs. It’s been nearly 20 years since WordPress introduced the plugin architecture, so as you’d expect, they’ve had some time to grow a massive catalog over the years.

Having too many plugins

As the saying goes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Usually, the more WordPress plugins you load onto your site, the more you run the risk of your site running slowly — and website speed is important for people staying on your website. Too many plugins can cause security breaches, crashes, problems due to conflicts between plugins, and more.

Now you may be asking: okay, how many are too many? The truth is, it’s less about quantity and more about the plugin’s quality. The number of plugins your website can comfortably handle depends on a few important factors: the quality of your website host, how well the developer optimized the plugin, and the extent of features it adds to your site.

For example, an eCommerce plugin that adds tons of features (product pages, a shopping cart, a payment portal, etc) will weigh much more than a plugin that lets you receive form submissions.

So, the rule of thumb is only to use plugins when you need them — be judicious! If it doesn’t add anything important to your site, you’re probably better off without it.

Tip: Top developers will build light plugins compared to poorly designed plugins with bloat. Think of bloat as someone who enters a marathon in sweats and boots compared to a runner with lightweight clothing and the latest running shoes. Poorly coded plugins will slow a website down.

Infrequently updated or abandoned plugins

We cannot stress enough that you ensure a team is actively working on the plugin you choose before adding it to your site. Out-of-date plugins eventually stop working due to incompatibilities with other plugins, not being supported by a new version of WordPress, and so on. Ideally, you’ll only want to download plugins that update every few weeks. Plugins that don’t update more than once every couple of months tend to make your website more susceptible to security issues. And anything that hasn’t been updated in over three months shouldn’t even be a consideration. At the very least, be aware of the risks if no other options are available.

Free plugins (with exceptions)

We always recommend using premium WordPress plugins when possible because they are typically updated frequently by a reputable developer. This means they are far more secure, optimized for the latest version of WordPress, and less likely to slow your website down. They develop with performance in mind.

But this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ever use free plugins. For example, as we recommended earlier — Rank Math is an excellent and potent plugin with both a free and paid option available. Premium plugins are generally better and offer more capabilities.

So, Which Plugins Should I Use?

While not an exhaustive list, here is a list of plugins recommended for most websites to have — and why you should be using them.

This is only possible because of the extensive catalog of WordPress plugins. There's probably a plugin for pretty much any functionality your website needs. It’s been nearly 20 years since WordPress introduced the plugin architecture, so as you’d expect, they’ve had some time to grow a massive catalog over the years.

Caching Plugin

Caching plugins are one of those “need-to-have” WordPress plugins. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of everything they offer, caching plugins offer robust features to optimize how your website loads and turbocharges your website’s page loading speed. Page speed is critical for keeping new users from bouncing on your website, and while there are many things you can do to improve page speed, having a caching plugin will play a huge part.

Ideally, this should already be taken care of if you’re using a premium web host like Siteground. They offer their own proprietary caching plugin that’s built-in and optimized to work best with their servers and for WordPress websites, so you don’t have to find one yourself.

That said, if your host does not offer its caching software — it may be in your best interest to look for a better host to speed up your website. But if you’re content with your host or unable to switch, WP Rocket is a great option.

This is only possible because of the extensive catalog of WordPress plugins. There's probably a plugin for pretty much any functionality your website needs. It’s been nearly 20 years since WordPress introduced the plugin architecture, so as you’d expect, they’ve had some time to grow a massive catalog over the years.

Security Plugin

This one is probably not much of a shocker. Your site should have some form of security plugin to defend against people uploading malware, hacking attempts, or any other digital attacks to your website. Much like caching plugins, premium hosts will offer their own proprietary plugins with a suite of features to protect your website and be best optimized for your hosting and WordPress environment. However, if your host does not offer their own, it would be wise to invest in a well-established security plugin like Wordfence.

This is only possible because of the extensive catalog of WordPress plugins. There's probably a plugin for pretty much any functionality your website needs. It’s been nearly 20 years since WordPress introduced the plugin architecture, so as you’d expect, they’ve had some time to grow a massive catalog over the years.

Website Backup Plugin

Once again, your host may already offer this feature — but if not, you’ll want to have a plugin like UpdraftPlus to back up your website regularly in case something catastrophic happens.

Not having backups to your website is like driving a new car without insurance. Even if you’re a safe driver… something may eventually go wrong that’s out of your control. If anything gets corrupted, your site gets hacked, or anything else goes wrong — you may lose everything and have to start from ground zero, wasting a ton of time and money.

Backup plugins are also typically very affordable, so there’s no excuse not to protect your website with one. We cannot stress enough how important this is — along with security, this is something you need to have.

Rankmath is our SEO WordPress Plugin of choice

Rank Math SEO (SEO Plugin)

While there are many good WordPress plugins for SEO, our choice is Rank Math. Rank Math is a very user-friendly SEO plugin that allows you to optimize your website to rank higher organically on search engines and social media.

With over a million active installations, frequent updates, and a 5-star rating — the proof is in the pudding. While the basic, free version of Rank Math is already incredibly powerful, you can take it a step further with Rank Math Pro, which we highly recommend. The performance outweighs the cost. The pro version is worth the money.

This is only possible because of the extensive catalog of WordPress plugins. There's probably a plugin for pretty much any functionality your website needs. It’s been nearly 20 years since WordPress introduced the plugin architecture, so as you’d expect, they’ve had some time to grow a massive catalog over the years.

WPForms (Form Plugin)

Although many WordPress themes will include the ability to create forms, you want to use the #1 form plugin on WordPress WPForms for a few reasons. For one, it offers an incredibly easy-to-use drag-and-drop builder to set up new forms within minutes. They’re responsive and offer a suite of options/extra capabilities such as capturing partial entries, payment, and even integration with your email campaign software of choice (such as ActiveCampaign, MailChimp, or Constant Contact).

We also highly recommend you also integrate WP Mail SMTP along with this. Form submissions without SMTP will usually work… until they don’t. The last thing you want is to miss an important email from a prospective client or someone seeking your services. WP Mail SMTP ensures your forms are delivered to your inbox by reconfiguring WordPress to use a proper SMTP provider when sending emails.

This is only possible because of the extensive catalog of WordPress plugins. There's probably a plugin for pretty much any functionality your website needs. It’s been nearly 20 years since WordPress introduced the plugin architecture, so as you’d expect, they’ve had some time to grow a massive catalog over the years.

CleanTalk (Anti-Spam Plugin)

Though we’re sure you’re already aware — spam has become insane in the past few years. More and more bots are crawling the web and sending spam messages and calls than ever before. So if your site doesn’t have a way to combat that, you’ll be inundated with messages that aren’t relevant to your business’ website. Our anti-spam WordPress Plugin of choice is CleanTalk. We love it since it doesn’t force the users to fill out Captchas — no questions and no puzzles. Instead, the plugin sends each message to the CleanTalk cloud, analyzes it, and sends it if it seems like a real person. If not, the message is discarded.

Take Your Website To The Next Level With WordPress Plugins

For nearly any feature you need for your website — you can be sure there’s probably a plugin already out there. Our team at Mighty Fine uses and integrates WordPress plugins for our clients daily — so you could say we know a thing or two about building WordPress websites with them. If your team needs help deciding which plugins your website should use or how to implement them, feel free to reach out, and we’ll be happy to help.

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