WordPress is a great tool, but out of the box it lacks some must have functionality. To address this, we install a number of plugins from the off to handle things from design & templating, through to backup and security.
In this post I want to take you through the plugins we use, and why.
Templating & Design
I love many things about WordPress, but the systems for managing editing and laying out the actual content of the site is not one of them. The recently introduced Guthenburg block editor has improved things a little, but it is still far from ideal. If I am being honest, we usually switch it off and go back to the classic editor.
For building page layouts we use a plugin called Elementor www.elementor.com. According to the stats, it’s the number 1 page builder, with over 5 million active installations. As such it is being actively updated and has a great ecosystem of developers adding functionality. Again, there are many reasons I like this plugin but these are the 3 main ones:
- Elementor has great functionality out of the box, but also has a broad ecosystem for extensions
- It integrates well with Advanced Custom Fields (Whilst not on this list, ACF is another plugin we use a lot )
- It allows you to split the page template design from the content meaning you can give users a clean simple content management system, whilst still having full and separate control over the design
Finally to ask the question “Why do we prefer a page builder to a theme?” The answer is simple. Themes are driven by fashion and tend not to be consistently developed & updated in the long term. They are also often over complicated as they try to appeal to a broad group of potential users. As Elementor is theme independent, it is developed on an ongoing basis, and designs developed in Elementor tend to be more tailored to the needs of an individual site. All in all, it’s our experience that themes developed in Elementor give more longevity, and a better experience for both site visitors and administrators.
The next plugin we install on every site deals with security and in this area our plugin of choice is Wordfence (www.wordfence.com). We like it as it’s simple to use and very comprehensive. Including as standard features like, brute force protection, bot management, a firewall and malware scanning. Running Wordfence is as simple as installing the plugin and running through a config wizard. Once installed you can forget it as it simply works. Something a security plugin should be.
This is one of the plugins where we use the free version as it gives all the functionality we need. Furthermore, the fact that it has a well established installed base of the pro version means that it is being constantly developed, and here for the long term.
Just as critical as security is making sure the site is reliably and regularly backed up. For this we use a plugin called Updraft (www.updraftplus.com). Updraft has a great free offering, but in this case we use the pro vision one simple reason: It allows you to schedule backups. Making sure the backups happen regularly is key, so automating the process is important. Other reasons we like updraft are:
- It allows you to easily keep off site copies using a range of cloud storage providers
- Updraft automatically prompts you to do a backup whenever you update plugins, themes or the WordPress core
- In our experience it is very reliable & “Just works”
All in all, whether you go for the free of paid version, updraft is a great backup tool.
There are a lot of good forms plugins for WordPress, but we have opted for Gravity forms (www.gravityforms.com). Again this is a paid plugin but is is very feature rich, integrates well with Elementor and has great functionality. It also has a powerful API for integrating forms with other systems – Mailchimp for example.
If I am being truly honest, they only thing I don’t like about Gravity forms is the limited options for styling forms without resorting to custom CSS. This is however a limitation they are aware of and are, by my understanding working on better functionality in this area. That said, even now and with this limitation, Gravity forms is a great tool and one we would not be without.
Last on the list, but by no means least is the SEO function. For this we use a plugin called Yoast (www.yoast.com). Yoast is a great plugin as it puts the process of optimising content fully in the hands of the person writing the content. It has an easy to use traffic light system to indicate how well optimised a page is. Along side this it gives helpful and easy to understand tips on how to improve your optimisation.
Furthermore, it gives the user easy access to the page meta data like titles & descriptions. These, whilst important to SEO, are often hidden and difficult to edit. Yoast brings these aspects to the forefront, making then a simple part of the page editing process.
This is another one where we use the free version. Unless you are working in highly competitive areas or have more complex optimisation needs, the free version does everything you need.
Other plugins worth a mention
The above are plugins that we install as a matter of routine on all our site. There are a couple of others that we also find very useful and worthy of mention:
- Advanced custom fields – www.advancedcustomfields.com. This allows you to add custom content field to posts and pages. Thus making it easy to structure your content and make page layout and editing much more simple. In our view its this one that turns WordPress into a proper content management system.
- Admin Columns Pro – www.admincolumnspro.com. This is a bit more niche, but if you do a lot of editing of content in the back end of WordPress, it make the process much more enjoyable & efficient.
We love these plugins so much that we actually include a pro licence for all of them with all our hosting packages, so if you use WordPress, and are using any of these plugins, its worth checking out our hosting offering. It may save you money. What’s more, we have a lot of experience in the world of WordPress, so if you are looking for a plugin to deliver some specific functionality, feel free to get in touch. We would be happy to share our experience.