Just before Christmas, I talked about how getting the right hosting arrangement can help make your website easier to manage.
Taking this idea further, how can you make your WordPress site really slick, secure and easy to use?
Limitations of the WordPress core
Whilst WordPress is a great Content Management System, the functionality of its default installation is a little limited. However, these limitations can be readily addressed by installing some key Plugins.
You should remember that adding plugins to your website puts extra demands on your hosting infrastructure. WordPress can be resource hungry so it is important that the plugins you use really deliver on functionality.
In this post I look at plugins that build real, core functionality into a website, addressing 7 fundamental criteria that come together to deliver a really slick, reliable website experience for both site administrators and site visitors.
Whilst many of these plugins are paid for, pro versions, we believe they all offer good value. Furthermore, because we rate them, we include the cost of access to the pro versions for most of these plugins with our hosting packages.
1. Page Layout & Design
Plugin – Elementor
The wordpress core offers limited capabilities for changing the layout & design of the site. In reality, in our experience, VERY limited. Hence the traditional need be to use a theme to help you on your way.
However, as we talked about in a previous post, themes have issues. For this reason, for our default setup we use a very simple theme (we use one called Underscores). We then use the Elementor Plugin to develop the layout. Whilst using a page builder like Elementor, can have a minor impact in performance, in our experience this is negligible, and far outweighed by the benefits.
Whilst there is a free version of Elementor, we use Elementor Pro with its enhanced features & better access to support. A single site licence is $49 per year. However access to Elementor Pro in included in all our hosting packages.
2. Site Backup
Plugin – Updraft
Its no secret that the popularity of WordPress makes it a potential target for hackers. However it’s open source model means that continual updates, ensure that security issues are fixed very quickly. This results the need continually update your site. One of the best ways to significantly reduce risks in this area is to have a robust backup routine. Ensuring that your site is regularly backed up means that should an issue arise from a code update, rolling back to the old version is a simple process.
For this, we use a system plugin Updraft. Through Updraft, you can automatically back up both files and database on a regular basis. The plugin will then send the backup files to a cloud storage site. Again, whilst a free version is available, we use the premium version. A 2 site licence is £54 for a year. However access to Updraft Plus Premuim in included in all our hosting packages.
3. Site Security
Plugin – Wordfence
Alongside a good backup routine, a solid security plugin is also a must on a WordPress site. For this we use the Wordfence plugin. Wordfence monitors traffic to your site and deals with suspicious activity by throttling or blocking access as appropriate. It handles a range of attacks from attempted brute force hacks of your login, to those targeting potentially vulnerable code.
Wordfence also allows for the regular scanning of website files. Checking them against original copies to ensure they have not been maliciously altered. Whilst not perfect (hence the need for backups) in our experience, Wordfence does an admirable job of securing a WordPress.
Even better news is that; Unless you need more advanced features like country specific traffic filtering, the free version of Wordfence is usually all you need.
4. Website Forms
Plugin – Gravity Forms
Its highly likely that you will want forms on your website, a contact form at the very least. Whilst Elementor does include form functionality, with the ability to email submissions to a given address, we again find this functionality limited. As a result we use a plugin called gravity forms. In addition to emailing submissions, it will also temporarily store them on the site so that you don’t have to keep referring to emails. It also allows powerful processing of form submission data, including integration with third party apps like email marketing systems.
There is no free version of Gravity Forms, and a single site licence is $59 per year. As with the other plugins on the list, access to Gravity Forms is included in all our hosting packages.
Plugin – WooCommerce
The next thing to look at is e-commerce – Whilst WordPress is not by default e-commerce enabled, by adding WooCommerce plugin it quickly becomes a powerful tool for online selling. Whilst not in the same league as dedicated e-commerce platforms like Magento, development costs and flexibility are significantly reduced, making it the perfect solution where you need e-commerce, but don’t want the cost and complexity of something like Magento.
Woocommerce is a free plugin, and one with which we are very familiar, so happy to support it within our packages. Furthermore, Woocommerce is fully supported by Elementor making incorporating e-commerce into your design is moderately straight forward.
6. Data Management
Plugin – WP All Import/Export
Particularly when managing more complex sites like those including e-commerce, managing the sites content within the wordpress backend can become a chore. This is where the ability to easily & flexibly export & import data into the site is vital. The tool we use for this are WP All Export and WP All Import, they allow the export of data to a spreadsheet file, and the import of spreadsheet data back into the site. Furthermore, the import routines allow powerful mapping features to facilitate getting the data into the right place.
To illustrate the power this delivers, whilst working on a recent e-commerce project, a product data reconfiguration job which took around 3 days to do manually, was handled in less than half a day using import & Export.
Again, there is no free version, and, a single site licence is a $169, and whilst this is a one off fee, again, access to this plugin is included in our hosting packages
7. Search Optimisation
Plugin – Yoast
Getting you site indexed by Google is still an important part of any website Marketing Strategy. Whilst the core set up of WordPress is recognised as “Google-friendly” we enhance this using the Yoast plugin.
As well as handling some of the basic SEO stuff like default page titles and description meta tags, Yoast also gives you the oportunity to enter a target keyword. It will then offer guidence on how to improve page optimisation for the given keyword.
Yoast will also help out with readability too. All in all the free version of Yoast is a great tool, but if you want some of the more advanced features, eg multiple target keywords or 301 redirect management, then the premium version will cost you £63.99 per year.
Enhanced WordPress delivers business value
We have been using WordPress for years, and have seen the platform evolve significantly over this time.
The plugin community has also evolved with some great developers offering significant enhancements to the core, backed up by excellent support and regular updates.
Part of our job is to keep up to date with these developments, to ensure our clients get the best WordPress experience. Because we use the platform and these plugins on a daily basis, we know them well. Allowing us to take the hassle out of managing your site, means you can see it is as a marketing tool rather than a technical frustration.