If your site was developed with WordPress, you’re in luck. There’s no need for a brand new design or expensive features to bring it up to date. You no longer have to settle for the template you chose or the layout it came with. There are thousands of plugins out there created specifically to manipulate WordPress sites into doing exactly what we want, and the beauty of it all is that most of them are free! Before you go out and invest in an expensive eCommerce site or start buying email programs, landing page sets, or even worse, a drag’n’drop site, take a look at some of our favorite plugins.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
First and foremost, you need a good SEO plugin, and we love Yoast. It’s easy to use and very effective. It lets you know if a page or post is properly optimized with a simple color-coded system; green means you are fully optimized. If you get red, it lets you know what’s missing and how to fix it. This is a great plugin for SEO beginners and experts alike.
Don’t forget to properly configure your SEO settings by checking the following boxes: “Force rewrite titles” and “Use meta keywords tag”. You can find these in the SEO tab on the Admin menu under Titles and Metas.
Although WordPress is user friendly and there are hundreds of great themes with customizable features, sometimes, it just doesn’t look exactly how you want it to look. If your theme doesn’t give you the option to change every color that appears on your site, give Theme Tweaker a try. It gives you a list of all the colors on your site and lets you change them as you please. It creates a child theme for you, so there’s no need to edit the CSS or PHP files. That means your changes will be preserved even after a WordPress or theme update.
It does take a little trial and error at first, because the list doesn’t specify which colors are attributed to which features in the original theme. Luckily, it lets you preview your changes before committing, and it’s easy to reset them if you don’t like the result.
WP Easy Columns
We stumbled upon this plugin by accident and found it to be great for per page customizations. It allows you to split any content into columns, essentially changing the look of your layout on a page-by-page basis. The short codes are easy enough for beginners. All you need to know is the fraction you want to use; one_fourth, one_third, etc. Even better, these columns are completely responsive, so they will bump from ¼ to ½ for tablets and all the way down to 1 for smartphones depending on the screen size. This will save you a ton of html coding headaches!
You can put the columns straight onto the page or inside a container. We find that putting the columns in a container adds quite a lot of buffer space you might not want, particularly at the bottom, but a good web developer will be able to work with this.
This is the best WordPress plugin for widget customization! We use Widget Wrangler on almost every WordPress site we develop. Widgets are a great way to add special features to your website, but they are usually restricted to a specific widget area, most often the sidebar. Widget Wrangler allows you to take any theme or plugin widget you have and put it on any page in any place you want. Essentially, it turns the widget into a short code so you can copy and paste it into the desired page.
It also adds the ability to no-index your widgets, which is sometimes good for SEO. However, we recommend asking an SEO expert to decide which widgets should and shouldn’t be indexed, because it’s not always an obvious choice.
Many clients come to us asking for an eCommerce site not realizing that all they need is a simple plugin to turn their current site into an online store. There are many eCommerce plugins out there, but if you want to be able to accept all payments types, currencies, and sell any kind of product, then we recommend WooCommerce. For physical products, it includes all the necessary shipping information and pricing, and for digital products, it’s great for giving access to downloads. Our favorite feature though, is the ability to put products on any page, whether it’s a store page or not.
The basic version of WooCommerce is free, but it has lots of other great features you can get by paying for an upgrade, and we feel the cost is reasonable for what you get.
WooCommerce Constant Contact
If you’re trying to sell a product or service, your email contact list is an important asset. We prefer using Constant Contact, which has a variety of free plugins for WordPress, but the most important is the integration with WooCommerce. Every sale means you automatically add that contact to your email marketing list, increasing the odds of future sales.
Unfortunately, this plugin is not free, but for about $50/year, we feel it’s reasonable since it contributes to sales. Many of the Constant Contact plugins are difficult to configure and can cause problems with your site, so we definitely recommend asking for expert help to get it set up properly.
If you have a blog, as every business should, then you want to encourage people to comment and share. Unfortunately, this opens up a can of worms, or should we say, a can of spam. People troll the internet just looking for opportunities to plant their link, and this can negatively affect your SEO. Always set your blog to only allow comments that have been approved. Adding an anti-spam plugin like Akismet is a must. Otherwise, you’ll be sorting through hundreds of spam comments every day and miss out on the ones you want to keep.
Even if you decide to approve some comments, be sure to delete any links or emails that may have been included before publishing them. You want to keep people on your website to increase conversions.
SNAP – NextScript: Social Networks Auto-Poster
There’s no point in blogging if you’re not going to promote it, but if you post lots of content or if you schedule your blogs far out in advance, it’s easy to forget to share those links. You can add a separate plugin for each social media network or you can use SNAP. It allows you to auto-post to all of the major social media networks and you only have to set it up once.
Unfortunately, Google+ and Pinterest haven’t jumped on the auto-post bandwagon, so SNAP can’t promote to these platforms, yet. Also, setup isn’t very user friendly, but once you figure it out, you can set it and forget it.
WP Super Cache
High definition is in, but slow load times are not. How do you include high definition media without slowing down your site? We use WP Super Cache. It allows your site to show cached data while your pages load, which really speeds up the process. Since slow load times negatively affect your SEO, this is a pretty important plugin. You can also use image compression plugins, but WP Super Cache is an easier and more holistic solution.
If you make a change to your site in edit mode, and it doesn’t seem to be showing up on the live version, it can be due to this plugin, but don’t panic. Simply refresh the page, and it should load the updated cache.
Google XML Sitemaps
Your WordPress template probably already came with a sitemap feature, but we’ve found using Google’s own XML Sitemaps plugin is much more effective. You can configure it to automatically update your sitemap whenever you make changes and you can specify which pages are most important for more focused SEO. You can also specify which pages not to include, which is great for making sure repeating plugins are not being counted as duplicate content. It doesn’t just send your sitemap to Google either, but also to Yahoo, Bing, and Ask.
No matter what sitemap plugin or feature you are using, you should still go to Google Webmaster Tools and physically submit your sitemap URL there. This will give you much more specific analytic and SEO information, and you’ll be able to see if Google is mistakenly indexing deleted pages, which can cause 404 errors.
The best part of using WordPress plugins has to do with relevance and originality. Even if you use a very popular theme, you can really make it your own with a few simple plugins and customizations. This ensures your site features are more relevant to your audience, easier to use, and effective at achieving your engagement and conversion goals. Let us know if you need help adding WordPress plugins to your site.
If you know about other great WordPress plugins, please share your favorites in the comment section below!