WordPress Website Plugins: Website Launch Checklist: Part 3

August 23, 2023 20 min read
Wordpress Website Plugins

Understanding the Role of Plugins

In the vast ecosystem of website development, especially within the WordPress universe, plugins play an indispensable role. Think of them as the ‘apps’ for your website, each one tailored to perform a unique function or enhance a specific feature.

Here’s a quick overview of what we’ll be covering:

  • What are plugins? A deep dive into their fundamental purpose.
  • The versatility of plugins: From SEO tools and social media integration to photo galleries and e-commerce solutions.
  • Quality vs. Quantity: Why having a multitude of plugins isn’t always the best strategy.
  • Security considerations: How to ensure your plugins aren’t gateways for vulnerabilities.
  • Must-have WordPress plugins: Highlighting a few that stand out, especially those with affiliate programs.

In the dynamic world of WordPress, plugins can be both a boon and a bane. While they can greatly amplify your website’s capabilities, they can also introduce potential vulnerabilities if not chosen wisely or maintained regularly. In this segment of our ‘Website Launch Checklist Series’, we aim to guide you through the maze of plugins, ensuring that you’re equipped to make the best decisions for your site.

Keeping Plugins & Themes Updated

When you’re managing a WordPress website, it’s like tending to a lively garden. Just as plants need regular care to thrive, your website’s plugins and themes require timely updates. Keeping everything updated ensures your website stays healthy, efficient, and secure.

Reasons you should regularly update:

  • Safety First: Updated plugins and themes often patch security vulnerabilities, shielding your site from potential cyber threats.
  • Smooth Operations: With every update, plugins and themes often run more efficiently, offering your visitors a better experience.
  • Fixing the Hiccups: All software has its quirks. Regular updates help iron out these glitches.
  • Fresh Features: Stay ahead of the curve with new tools and functionalities that updates often bring.
  • Everything in Sync: WordPress core updates can sometimes clash with older plugins or themes. Regular updates ensure everything works in harmony.

But before you rush to hit that ‘update’ button:

  • Always Backup: Make sure you’ve saved a recent copy of your site. It’s your safety net in case things don’t go as planned.
  • Stay Informed: Check out the update notes to know what’s changing.
  • Test Before Going Live: If you can, apply updates to a test version of your site first. This way, you catch potential issues without affecting your main site.

After all, just like watering a garden, it’s the regular care and attention to these updates that keeps your website flourishing.

Choosing the Right Plugins

Diving into the vast world of WordPress plugins can feel a bit like navigating a bustling market. With over 50,000 plugins available, how do you ensure you’re picking the best ones for your site? The key is to know your website’s needs and to keep some guidelines in mind.

  • Understand Your Needs: Before exploring plugin options, list out your site’s requirements. Do you need e-commerce functionality? Maybe a contact form or a specific visual layout?
  • Check the Reviews: Peer reviews are gold. They give insights into the plugin’s performance and support. If a plugin has numerous negative reviews, it’s a clear red flag.
  • Look at Active Installations: A high number of active installations usually indicates a trusted and well-performing plugin.
  • Developer’s Reputation: Research the developer or the company behind the plugin. Established developers tend to release more reliable and secure plugins.
  • Test for Compatibility: Make sure the plugin is compatible with your version of WordPress. A mismatch can lead to website errors.
  • Consider Performance Impact: Some plugins can slow down your website. It’s always a good idea to test the site’s speed before and after installing a new plugin.
  • Support and Updates: Plugins that are regularly updated and have a responsive support team are safer bets. They’re more likely to be compatible with the latest WordPress version and free from known vulnerabilities.
  • Affiliate Programs: For those eyeing monetization, several plugins offer affiliate programs. This can be a nice added bonus, but always ensure the plugin’s quality and relevance to your audience.

Remember, while it’s tempting to add numerous plugins, it’s about quality over quantity. Each additional plugin brings its own set of scripts and styles, which can impact your site’s performance. Prioritize your website’s needs and always prioritize user experience.

Essential WordPress Plugins

The beauty of WordPress lies in its versatility, which is largely contributed to by the vast array of plugins available. While the WordPress repository has a plugin for just about every need, not all plugins are created equal. 

In our journey of setting up and running numerous WordPress websites, certain plugins have stood out as the must-haves. Here’s our list of some essential plugins that you should consider for your website.

SEO Enhancers

The backbone of any successful website is its search engine optimization strategy. Without proper SEO, even the best-designed sites can get lost in the vast sea of search results. 

Thankfully, WordPress users have access to some of the best SEO plugins that can guide them towards achieving an optimized website. Here are a couple of paramount ones:

  1. Yoast:

Overview: Yoast SEO is arguably the most popular WordPress SEO plugin, boasting over 5 million active installations. It’s known for its user-friendly interface and a range of features that cater to both SEO novices and veterans.

Key Features:

  • Content Analysis: Helps writers ensure their content is SEO-friendly by providing feedback on keyword usage, readability, and more.
  • XML Sitemaps: Automates the creation and submission of sitemaps to Google and Bing, aiding in site indexation.
  • Breadcrumbs: Makes navigation easier for users while giving a structured view for search engines.
  • Social Integration: Allows for optimized sharing on platforms like Facebook and Twitter with OpenGraph tags.
  1. All in One SEO Pack:

Overview: All in One SEO Pack is a close competitor to Yoast and is the second most downloaded SEO plugin. Its strength lies in its simplicity combined with advanced features for more seasoned users.

Key Features:

  • Automatic Meta Tags: The plugin auto-generates meta titles and descriptions for better search visibility.
  • Google AMP Support: Ensures your site remains SEO optimized when using the AMP for WordPress plugin.
  • Schema Markup: Supports a variety of schema types, ensuring that search engines understand the context of your content.
  • Robots.txt and .htaccess Editor: Gives advanced users the control to set site-wide directives for search engines.

With either of these plugins in your arsenal, you’re ensuring that the foundational SEO elements of your site are in place. Remember, while plugins can guide and automate many processes, a strategic approach to content creation and backlinking is still essential to rise above the competition.

Performance Boosters

The speed and responsiveness of your website can greatly affect user experience and your SEO rankings. A delay of just a few seconds in page load time can result in significant loss of visitors. This is why performance optimization plugins are vital tools in the WordPress ecosystem. Let’s explore two of the most renowned:

  1. WP Rocket:

Overview: WP Rocket stands out in the crowded space of caching plugins due to its simplicity and efficiency. Right from activation, it starts optimizing your site, and the results are often immediately noticeable.

Key Features:

  • Cache Preloading: Automatically or manually preload your website’s cache, improving speed for your visitors.
  • Static Files Compression: Uses GZIP compression to reduce the weight of your HTML, JavaScript, and CSS files.
  • Lazyload: Enhances performance by only loading images and videos when they’re in the viewport.
  • Database Optimization: A cleaner database means a faster website. WP Rocket helps remove unnecessary data without manual queries.
  1. W3 Total Cache:

Overview: W3 Total Cache is a comprehensive caching plugin known for its multitude of features. It can be a bit more complex than WP Rocket but offers a deeper level of customization for those who are technically inclined.

Key Features:

  • Multiple Caching Methods: Supports opcode, object, page, and database caching.
  • Minification: Reduces the size of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files.
  • Content Delivery Network (CDN) Integration: Easily connect to your CDN of choice for faster content delivery across the globe.
  • Browser Caching: Leverages the browser’s cache to store frequently accessed resources, reducing subsequent page load times.

Both of these plugins bring unique strengths to the table. WP Rocket is often lauded for its user-friendliness and immediate impact, while W3 Total Cache offers a granular control that tech-savvy website owners might appreciate. 

Whichever you choose, the aim is to make your website as nimble and responsive as possible for every visitor.

Security Protectors

A website breach can lead to devastating consequences, from loss of trust among your audience to severe financial damages. Ensuring your website’s security is a top priority, and WordPress provides some robust plugins to help in this regard. 

Here’s an overview of two leading security plugins:

  1. Wordfence:

Overview: Wordfence is one of the most popular WordPress security solutions. It offers a wide array of features to protect your website from potential threats.

Key Features:

  • Firewall: Protects your site from brute force attacks and malicious traffic.
  • Real-time Threat Defense Feed: Automatically updates with the latest threat information to keep your site protected.
  • Login Security: Features like two-factor authentication ensure only authorized users can access your backend.
  • Security Scanning: Scans core files, themes, and plugins for malware, bad URLs, backdoors, and SEO spam.
  1. Sucuri Security:

Overview: Sucuri Security is a globally recognized authority that offers both a plugin and a suite of security services for website owners.

Key Features:

  • Security Activity Auditing: Provides a detailed log of all activity on your site, helping to identify potential threats.
  • File Integrity Monitoring: Notifies you of any changes to your site’s files, making it easier to detect and fix unauthorized alterations.
  • Remote Malware Scanning: Scans your site from the outside to detect external signs of a compromise.
  • Firewall: An optional premium feature, the Sucuri CloudProxy Firewall offers DDoS protection, malware blocking, and intrusion prevention.

Choosing the right security plugin is a balance of understanding your website’s specific needs and the level of security you’re aiming for. Both Wordfence and Sucuri offer robust protections, but they shine in different areas, making it worthwhile to investigate both based on your website’s unique requirements.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is an excellent revenue stream for many website owners. The process involves promoting products/services and earning a commission for every purchase made through your referral link. 

But, managing and cloaking these affiliate links can be tedious without the right tools. Enter affiliate marketing plugins:

  1. ThirstyAffiliates:

Overview: ThirstyAffiliates is designed for bloggers who want to monetize their content with affiliate marketing. It provides a suite of tools to manage and cloak affiliate links.

Key Features:

  • Link Cloaking: Convert long, confusing affiliate links into short and branded URLs.
  • Link Categorization: Organize your affiliate links by categories for better management.
  • Automatic Keyword Linking: Automatically link specific keywords to your affiliate links throughout your content.
  • Geolocation Link Redirects: Redirect visitors to different destinations based on their geolocation, ensuring they reach the correct affiliate site for their region.
  1. Pretty Links:

Overview: Pretty Links is more than just an affiliate link manager; it’s a comprehensive link cloaker, redirect, and tracker for WordPress.

Key Features:

  • Link Redirection: Offers various types of redirection, including 301, 302, and 307 redirects.
  • Detailed Link Tracking: Monitor every hit on your URL, tracking browser, host, and source information.
  • Link Grouping: Group related links together for better organization.
  • Public Link Creation: Allows visitors or members to create short links, which can be beneficial for user-generated content sites.

Whether you’re an affiliate marketing novice or a seasoned pro, integrating these plugins into your WordPress site can streamline the management of affiliate links. Their user-friendly interfaces make it simple to cloak, redirect, and track your affiliate URLs, ensuring that you maximize your earning potential.

E-commerce Essentials

As online shopping continues its meteoric rise, the importance of having a robust and efficient e-commerce platform can’t be overstated. E-commerce plugins are designed to turn your website into a fully-functioning online store, allowing for the sale of physical or digital products, the processing of payments, and the management of inventory. 

Here are two of the heavy hitters in the WordPress e-commerce space:

  1. WooCommerce:

Overview: WooCommerce is an open-source e-commerce plugin specifically designed for WordPress. It seamlessly integrates with your website, offering a complete e-commerce solution right out of the box.

Key Features:

  • Flexibility: Sell anything, from physical products to digital downloads, subscriptions, and even appointments.
  • Customizable: Access to hundreds of free and premium extensions that allow for deeper customization to suit your store’s needs.
  • Secure: Regularly updated to address any potential security issues, ensuring your store and its data are safe.
  • Analytics: Built-in tools for sales and customer metrics to keep you informed about your store’s performance.
  1. Easy Digital Downloads (EDD):

Overview: While WooCommerce covers a broad spectrum of e-commerce needs, EDD focuses primarily on the sale of digital products. It’s a lightweight, intuitive solution for those selling digital goods.

Key Features:

  • Digital Product Focus: Streamlined for the sale of digital products like eBooks, plugins, music, and more.
  • Discount Codes: Easily create discount codes to promote your products and drive sales.
  • Data Reporting: Detailed reports on earnings, downloads, and customer data.
  • Extensions: Numerous extensions available for added functionality like payment gateways, marketing platforms, and other services.

Choosing between WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads often boils down to the nature of the products you intend to sell. If your focus is purely on digital goods, EDD might be the go-to choice. However, for a more comprehensive e-commerce solution that covers both physical and digital goods, WooCommerce stands out.

With the right tools in place, managing your online store can be a breeze. But beyond sales, how you integrate with other platforms and tools matters. Let’s explore some essential third-party integrations next!

Third-party Integrations

The beauty of WordPress lies not only in its core functionalities but also in its seamless ability to integrate with third-party tools and platforms. These integrations can amplify the power of your site, bridging gaps, and enhancing user experience in ways that standalone plugins might not be able to achieve. Here’s a dive into the importance and potential of third-party integrations:

Today’s online landscape demands more than just a static website. Whether you’re capturing leads, processing payments, or engaging with visitors through live chat, third-party integrations make these functionalities accessible. By strategically choosing and integrating these tools, you can create a website that’s more than just a digital storefront — it’s a dynamic platform tailored to your audience’s needs.

  • CRM Integration: Connecting your website to customer relationship management software like Salesforce or HubSpot can streamline lead capture, track visitor behaviors, and automate marketing strategies.
  • Payment Gateways: Integrating trusted payment solutions like PayPal, Stripe, or Square can ensure secure transactions, building trust with your customers.
  • Social Media Feeds: Incorporate live feeds from platforms like Instagram or Twitter to keep your site content fresh and encourage social engagement.
  • Live Chat & Support: Tools like Intercom or Zendesk can be integrated to offer real-time support and assistance to site visitors, enhancing user experience.
  • Analytics & Tracking: By integrating platforms like Google Analytics or Hotjar, you can gain in-depth insights into user behaviors, allowing for data-driven decisions.

Remember, while integrating third-party tools can supercharge your site’s functionalities, it’s crucial to ensure they don’t bog down performance. Always test the site’s speed and functionality after adding a new integration.

In the next section, we’ll delve deeper into enhancing the on-site search experience for visitors, and why that’s so pivotal for user satisfaction.

On-site Search Functionality

On-site search functionality has grown beyond just a convenience feature; it’s now a pivotal aspect of user experience. As websites grow in content and complexity, the ability for users to quickly find what they’re looking for becomes increasingly vital. But it’s not just about having a search bar—it’s about ensuring that the results returned are relevant, timely, and valuable.

Imagine visiting an e-commerce store with thousands of products, but struggling to locate the specific item you’re after. Even if the product exists on the website, the lack of an efficient search function can make it seem otherwise, leading to potential loss of sales and trust.

Key Elements of Effective On-site Search:

  • Search Predictions & Autocomplete: Helping users by suggesting search queries can guide them to the desired content faster.
  • Filter & Sort Options: Allowing users to narrow down search results by criteria like date, popularity, or relevance ensures a more user-centric approach.
  • Highlighted Search Terms: Making the searched terms stand out in the results can help users quickly identify the information they’re looking for.
  • Mobile-friendly Search: With a significant amount of web traffic originating from mobile devices, ensuring your on-site search is mobile-optimized is non-negotiable.

Importance of Search Result Relevance

The heart of effective on-site search lies in the relevance of the results. Serving users with unrelated content or outdated pages can not only be unhelpful but can also be frustrating. When users trust your site’s search functionality to guide them accurately, they’re more likely to stay longer and engage more deeply.

There are various algorithms and tools available to fine-tune search result relevance. For instance, utilizing AI-driven solutions can help predict user intent and present the most appropriate content. Continually monitoring search queries and the subsequent user behavior can also shed light on areas of improvement.

In essence, while having an on-site search function is important, ensuring it’s tailored to user needs with accurate and relevant results is paramount.

Plugin Security: Guarding Your Site’s Backdoor

In the dynamic world of WordPress, plugins play a pivotal role, bringing a myriad of functionalities to your website. They can transform a basic site into a robust e-commerce platform, a vibrant community forum, or even a multimedia-rich portfolio. However, with this power comes responsibility. Plugins, if not carefully vetted and managed, can become potential vulnerabilities, offering malicious actors a way into your website.

Consider plugins as doorways into your website. While many are robust and securely locked, others might have weaknesses—akin to a backdoor left inadvertently ajar. Given that a significant percentage of website breaches are due to outdated or insecure plugins, prioritizing plugin security isn’t just optional; it’s crucial.

Key Guidelines for Plugin Security:

  • Source Matters: Always download plugins from reputable sources, ideally from the official WordPress repository or directly from the plugin developer’s site.
  • Regular Updates: Just as we discussed the importance of keeping plugins updated, it’s worth emphasizing that many updates are security patches. Don’t delay in applying them.
  • Less is More: It’s tempting to install numerous plugins for various functionalities. However, the more plugins you have, the more potential vulnerabilities you might introduce. Use only what’s necessary, and deactivate or delete what’s not in use.
  • Read Reviews and Changelogs: Often, other users’ reviews can alert you to potential security issues. Changelogs, on the other hand, provide insights into what the update entails, especially regarding security fixes.
  • Backup Regularly: In the unfortunate event that something goes awry, having a recent backup of your website can be a lifesaver. Ensure you’re taking regular backups, especially before making significant changes or updates.
  • Use Security Plugins: Ironically, some plugins are designed to bolster your site’s defenses. Tools like Wordfence or Sucuri can scan for vulnerabilities, monitor for suspicious activities, and even implement firewalls.

In the grand scheme of website management, think of plugins as both tools and responsibilities. They can undoubtedly enhance your site, but without proper oversight, they can also introduce risks. Guard your site’s backdoor diligently; a secure website is foundational to building and maintaining trust with your audience.

Backup Plugins: Your Safety Net

The importance of a solid backup system for any website owner cannot be overstated. Imagine pouring hours, days, and even years into creating content, fine-tuning design, and accumulating customer data, only to lose it all in an instant due to an unforeseen glitch, hack, or server crash. This is where backup plugins come into play, serving as a vital safety net for your digital endeavors.

Backup plugins automate the process of creating copies of your website’s content, databases, themes, and even plugins. These backups can be restored in the event of a disaster, ensuring that your hard work isn’t lost to the abyss of the web.

Key Features to Look For in a Backup Plugin:

  • Automatic Scheduling: A good backup plugin allows you to set a schedule for automatic backups, be it daily, weekly, or at other intervals.
  • Complete Backups: Ensure that the plugin offers comprehensive backups, including all components of your site, not just the database or the content.
  • Easy Restoration: A backup is only as good as its restore function. It should be straightforward to reinstate your website to its previous state with minimal hassle.
  • Storage Options: Look for plugins that offer multiple storage options, such as cloud storage (like Google Drive or Dropbox), FTP, or even email. This flexibility ensures you can access your backups when and where you need them.
  • Encryption and Security: Especially important if your backups are stored off-site, like in cloud storage. Ensuring that the data is encrypted adds an extra layer of protection against potential threats.
  • Incremental Backups: This feature allows the plugin to backup only the changes made since the last backup, saving storage space and reducing server load.

Popular Backup Plugins:

  • UpdraftPlus: Highly rated and widely used, UpdraftPlus offers both free and premium versions, with features like encrypted backups and advanced reporting in the latter.
  • BackupBuddy: A premium option that stands out for its real-time backup feature and robust security functionalities.
  • Duplicator: Beyond just backups, this plugin assists in migrations, making it a versatile tool for those planning to move their site.

When it comes to digital assets, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. By setting up a reliable backup system using quality plugins, you ensure that, come what may, your website’s content and functionality remain intact, ready to bounce back from any adversities.

Wrapping It Up

Embarking on a journey to launch a WordPress website is a nuanced endeavor, with a myriad of aspects to consider and fine-tune. As we’ve explored in this series, ensuring the seamless performance, security, and functionality of your site is paramount. Through the lens of plugins, we’ve delved deep into tools and strategies that enhance your website’s efficacy, making it robust and user-friendly.

If you’ve just joined us, don’t miss out on the valuable insights from Part 1: SEO and Crawling and Part 2: Performance Optimization. Each piece of this series equips you with knowledge and best practices to launch a website that’s primed for success.

As we close this chapter on plugins, it’s essential to remember that a website’s launch isn’t just about technology and aesthetics—it’s also about ensuring you’re legally compliant. Stay tuned for Part 4, where we’ll navigate the critical legal aspects to review before your website goes live, ensuring you’re protected from unforeseen liabilities and complications.

Remember, the devil is in the details. By meticulously preparing for each phase of your website’s launch, you’ll not only create a digital space that resonates with your audience but also stands the test of time. Onwards and upwards!

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Artur Shepel
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Artur Shepel