12 Free and Essential WordPress Plugins for 2012
Essential WordPress Plugins
With a growing list of over 20,000 plugins, sometimes it's a little tricky figuring out just which plugins to use! This is a quick overview of 12 essential WordPress plugins that every WordPress Blog should have. The good news is (at the time of writing this) they are all completely free. The below essential WordPress plugins relate to enhancing WordPress functionality, security, SEO and Social Marketing.
# 1 - Secure-WP
Security should always be your first concern when anything is publicly accessible on the internet - that is why I rank Secure-WP as being one of the most essential WordPress plugins out there. Do not get me wrong - WordPress does a great job natively of securing your Blog, providing that you keep the version updated.
However, Secure-WP bolsters that security further by removing oodles of information that could have been used by hackers and removing some sensitive material from user accounts, while preserving this information in the administrator's account. Good stuff!
# 2 - Spam Free WordPress
Spam is a HUGE problem with WordPress blogs, which makes an anti-spam plugin one of the most essential WordPress plugins. I use Spam Free WordPress, which seems to be doing quite well. Over the course of a 6 month period, it has blocked over 8,000 spam comments, a number that seems to grow exponentially. Now imagine having to go through 40-50 spam comments per day! One of the key reasons we use plugins is to save time, and Spam Free WordPress certainly accomplishes this!
Essential WordPress Plugins # 3 - W3 Total Cache
After security and spam are taken care of, site speed is the next thing that comes to mind. No-one is going to wait around for 30 seconds for your webpage to load, so site speed is critical. I'll now mention a couple of essential WordPress plugins that help supercharge your website.
The first is W3 Total Cache. This plugin is massively downloaded, downloaded almost 1.2 million times! It helps speed up your site by improving server performance, caching every aspect of your website, reducing download times and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration. In short, it makes your WordPress Blog faster!
# 4 - WP Optimize
WordPress is database driven. The more efficient the database is, the quicker pages can be accessed from the database, the faster your site loads to your visitors. However, over time, a WordPress database can become polluted with needless information (such as deleted content, spam comments, old page revisions, etc.). This increases the overall size of the database and increases access times to that database. The end result - your pages take longer to open.
WP Optimize cleans up your database automatically and keeps it streamlined by removing needless information on an ongoing basis.
# 5 - WP Database Backup
In terms of essential WordPress plugins, backing up your data is right up there. It's something we all leave until it's too late, and then wish we had not. WP Database Backup makes it simple to backup the core. The key thing here is that you are able to easily backup your site with WP DB - and if need be hire a Freelancer to restore your sites, I would imagine who would charge in the region of $ 25-50 - a lot less of a header than rebuilding your site from scratch! WordPress tables.
The one downside to this plugin is that it's a little tricky to restore from if something does happen to your site. There are alternative plugins out there that are a lot more user friendly, such as Backup Buddy, but this is unfortunately not a free plugin, priced at $ 75 for 2 WordPress sites.
# 6 - Broken Link Checker
There's nothing more frustrating than clicking on a link and getting the "page not found" error. While this is frustrating for the visitor, it also generally has the effect of pushing that visitor (and potential client) away from your website. The Broken Link Checker can monitor links in your posts, pages, comments, the blogroll, and custom fields and reports broken links to you either through your WordPress dashboard, or via email.
Essential WordPress Plugins # 7 - Google XML Sitemaps
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of SEO related plugins. Only a handy of these I would consider essential WordPress plugins. The first is Google XML Sitemaps. A sitemap is basically a road map of your website, highlighting all the individual pages and how they link together - their structure. Google and the other major search engines use such sitemaps to more efficiently crawl and index your site.
Google XML Sitemaps automatically creates such a sitemap and keeps it updated as you add new content. In addition, it also notifies all major search engines every time you create and post new content.
# 8 - All in One SEO Pack
All in One SEO is the most popular SEO plugin for WordPress blogs. It helps you optimize pages and posts by automatically generating meta tags and helps you to optimize web page titles. The great thing about the All in One SEO Pack is that it is fully functional out of the box, requiring very limited configuration, making it great for those new to WordPress and SEO.
# 9 - Ultimate Follow Me
Perhaps my "favorite" of the essential WordPress plugins listed here. Ultimate Follow Me is actually a WordPress side bar widget that links to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other Social media platforms. It now also includes Google +1, which is generally viewed as a very prominent way to increase your search engine rankings.
I have demo'd quite a few of these Social marketing plugins. While they all do pretty much the same thing, Ultimate Follow me generally presents the social media icons a little "prettier". There are various sizes to choose from and looks great in the sidebar - your visitors are sure not to miss them!
# 10 - Shareaholic
Another of the essential WordPress plugins I can not do without! The plugin automatically creates a gorgeous little social marketing bar at the bottom of your posts where people can like your post on Facebook, Tweet it to their Twitter account, or share on many, many social bookmarking websites.
At the time of writing this, Shareaholic supports 85 sites! It also comes in 3 flavors, classic bookmarks, sexy bookmarks and sassy bookmarks. Once you have decided which social sites to use, Shareaholic automatically posts the links to the bottom of every page or post - although you do have the option to override the plugin on a per page basis so it does not show.
# 11 - Google Analytics Dashboard
The Google Analytics Dashboard tracks visitors to each of your pages from within your WordPress dashboard, so no need to login to your Google Analytics account! You are also able to embed parts of the analytics directly into posts or as part of your theme. One caveat to this plugin is that it does not display the full information you will get from your Google Analytics account. It does give you the basic information you need to see who's visiting what, which is mostly what I look for in my Analytics account anyway.
# 12 - Page Links To
For me personally, this is one of the most essential WordPress plugins I use. I use it primarily in relation to the content I use on the front page. The front page descriptions of Blogs generally take the first 200 characters or so of the actual article page and display them as the advertising wordage.
The problem is, sometimes I do not want to use the first 200 characters of my articles as the wordage that displays on my front page, relating to that article, so what do I do? I create an additional page, with the words I do want to use, and use the Page Links To plugin to redirect that page to the actual post.
Essential WordPress Plugins Summary
The general idea of plugins, is to make your job easier running a WordPress blog, but from personal experience, finding a plugin that does not have to be frustrating task in itself!
I can not begin to imagine how many plugins I have tested over the years. The above 12 free and essential WordPress plugins have managed to prove their worth time and time again.