I’m excited to share everything I know about WordPress plugins with my fellow outdoor bloggers. A little nerdy, I know, but hear me out, when I started my own outdoor blog, Your Adventure Coach – I had no freaking clue what I was getting myself into. I was a hiker. I was a backpacker. I was most definitely not a blogger. And I definitely did not know what a WordPress plugin was or how amazing (or anxiety-inducing) they could be!
Before we dive in, I want to clarify that I run a self-hosted blog on WordPress.org. That might be useful to know if you’re ever trying to apply any of these blogging lessons to your own site. If you’re using a totally different platform like Wix or Squarespace, I’m not sure how useful my blogging tips will be for you, just keep that in mind 😉
This post may contain affiliate affiliate links for your convenience, see my full disclosure for more info.
What is the difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org?
There is a difference! It may be hard to realize though if you’re just starting out and you hear other bloggers saying they use wordpress…. that doesn’t really narrow it down, does it?
To use wordpress.org, you’ll need to download the (free) wordpress software and then you install it on a web server, that is where your website and your content will “live” – this is called self-hosted wordpress. While the software itself is free, you will need to pay a monthly/annual hosting fee for your server to “house” your website.
That being said, choosing to be self-hosted through wordpress.org means that you OWN your website and all your content. You can back up and store your own website and move to another host at any time, or do whatever you want with it.
WordPress.com is a website that is based on the wordpress.org software and is free to use, on its most basic plan. This means, you’re using the same software, but your website and all its content “lives” on wordpress.com. Your site will actually be a subdomain under wordpress.com, which can (not always) but can hinder your SEO efforts. You’ll also have more limited disk space for your site on wordpress.com. There are also only a limited number of themes and plugins you can use that already available on wordpress.com by default. You may be able to get around some of these things if you upgrade to one of their business plans – but at that point, why not just use wordpress.org and pay for a web host?
WordPress.org ultimately gives you the most flexibility and freedom as far how you create your website and what you can actually do with it. Some advertising and affiliate networks even require you to be self-hosted, making it more difficult to monetize a wordpress.com site – again, not impossible, but more difficult.
How to check if you’re on wordpress.com or wordpress.org?
If you started your website a while back on wordpress…. but aren’t sure which one, it’s worth checking out now. A sure fire way to tell is when you log into your wordpress account, to make any changes to your website, you have the wordpress dashboard and menu on the lefthand side. Hover over the the W icon at the very top, or click on it, and it should take you to either wordpress.com or wordpress.org.
Neither of these is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but I do think it depends on the goals you have for your blog or website which you choose.
What is a WordPress plugin?
A plugin is simply additional software or code that you can install on your website to make it look or act a certain way – without coding it yourself. Some plugins are free and some are paid. A common frustration for new bloggers is that they just can’t get their website to look they want to or do the thing they want it to do! Blurg! Trust me, I get you.
Honestly, sometimes your theme (or lack of quality theme) may be the issue, and upgrading to a better theme might be your solution, but sometimes a plugin might do the trick.
To be clear, you don’t actually need any plugins on your site. But for those of us who can’t code what we want from scratch will inevitably end up installing at least some plugins.
How to choose the best plugins
Okay… let’s get real. I truly do not believe that there are “best” plugins. and those posts – 50 best wordpress plugins drive me crazy because if you have 50+ plugins installed on your site I’d hate to see what your site speed and load times look like. Eek! More on that in a second.
There are some things to look for before installing a plugin that will help you narrow down the best ones for your site. First, ask in trusted blogging communities (like Facebook groups) what plugins people use and like for X, Y or Z. Knowing what other people use firsthand is a great starting point, also, they’ll let you know what NOT to use if any of them have a bad experience, people pretty much always chime in.
Then, when you’re looking at plugins available for download, check the number of active installs, how many stars/reviews it has, and when it was last updated. In general, the higher the number of active installs, the better the plugin will be. People wouldn’t keep it installed if it was glitchy or didn’t work. Of course, the more stars it has in the reviews section, the better. Feel free to peruse the reviews if you have time, just to see what others are saying. Possibly one of the most important factors is if the plugin is still being updated and made compatible with other wordpress and plugin updates.
If a developer stops updating a plugin that could cause possible major issues for you down the road. Depending on the plugin, it maybe minor issues, but if you can make sure everything is up to date and developers are working behind the scenes to make sure things are working properly, that’s always in your favor.
Don’t go overboard with the plugins
Plugins are not always the magic pill solution they are made out to be. Some plugins are clunky, created poorly, and may slow down your site significantly – which can hurt your reader’s experience. Sometimes plugins interfere with other plugins, causing either one or both to stop working or your whole site to crash. Sometimes plugins open up your site to hackers and security risks.
I don’t say that to scare you, but hopefully to help you be more picky about what plugins you install on your site and avoid installing unnecessary plugins. Do your research first. If you can simply copy and paste a tiny piece of code instead of installing a full on plugin – do that!
WordPress Plugins I use and recommend
Of course, these are all optional – remember, you don’t need any plugins to run your website, but these are what I use to keep things running smoothly both for me on the back end and for my readers.
Ad Inserter – I’m with Google Adsense, at least for now, but was not happy with the automatic placement Google implemented on my site, while they say it’s optimized for revenue – it looked baaaaaad. So I use Ad Inserter instead to control ad placement across my site without having to go in and manually place code for each page and post. It’s pretty magical. I also use Ad Inserter to place optin forms in my posts. Okay, so I know I could do both of those things manually, copying and pasting code, but I’m already anticipating that I won’t be using Adsense or Mailerlite forever. To make it easier on myself later on, I’d rather replace my ad and optin code once in Ad Inserter rather than having to go back through every single post and take out those codes when the time comes to upgrade my ad network and email service provider.
Classic Editor and Classic Editor Addon – I still have not made the jump to the Gutenberg editor. Some people seem to like it, but I still hear too many rumblings and complaints about small glitches that need to be worked out in Gutenberg. For now, I’m sticking to the Classic Editor since I know it works – and is compatible with the other plugins I already use.
Compress JPEG and PNG images – After running a page speed test on my site, my image file sizes were seriously slowing down my site! Eek! There are several image compression plugins out there, I definitely recommend you get and use one if you don’t already compress your images some other way, or if you also notice your images are slowing down your site. This is what I use and like it. You can use it for free up to a certain number of files per month, which is what I do cause I’m a cheap-o, or you could just pay and have all your images sitewide compressed at once.
Elementor – I use Elementor to build some optin landing pages and sales pages and I love it! They have a free version, which I like, or a paid pro version, but I haven’t seen or had any reason to upgrade yet. I used to Thrive until they ‘upgraded’ to Thrive Architect and I had nothing but issues, it just never worked and always gave me a different error message whenever I tried to use it. I’ve also heard too many other bloggers have similar issues with Thrive, so if you need a page builder, I definitely recommend Elementor.
Official Mailerlite Sign Up Forms – I have a love/hate relationship with this one. As I’ve mentioned before, I would always rather just paste the code for my optin forms instead of installing another plugin, but after some changes on Mailerlite’s end, the code stopped working on my site and they claimed installing the plugin was the only solution. We all know how I feel about having extra plugins on my site! ha! Even if you don’t use Mailerlite, make sure you have a way to get functional optin forms up and running on your site – whether that’s through code from your email service provider or their own plugin.
Remove Amazon Links From RSS Feed – This was something that came to my attention more recently – did you know it is against Amazon’s terms of service to have affiliate links in emails, any emails, including automated RSS feeds. If you include Amazon Affiliate links in your posts, then sending your posts out via an automated RSS feed, your affiliate links are probably in there and I’d rather not take my chances with the powers that be over at Amazon. This plugin removes them and puts you back in compliance with their terms of service, from what I understand.
Simple 301 Redirects – This is a super easy plugin to redirect pages or posts that don’t exist anymore to other relevant content. If you don’t redirect old pages, readers (and Google bots) may be served a 404 error instead, which is not ideal.
Social Pug – This is what I use for social share buttons on my posts. Whether you use this one, or another plugin, you should always have some way to make it super easy for readers to share your content! Side note: This was an upgrade for me after Social Warfare had all those tech issues and security hacks, so decided to stay away from Social Warfare moving forward.
Woocommerce – This is what I use to sell digital products through my site. It’s free and ultimately uses Paypal as the actual payment processor, so you do pay service fees to Paypal. But this is the most affordable solution I’ve found so far for e-commerce without having to pay a hefty monthly fee to other services like Shopify or Sendowl, although I have heard great things about them. They’re just not in the budget right now.
Wp-SpamShield – This blocks pretty much all my spam comments on my posts! It’s great to not have to delete and sort through a ton of spam comments every day.
Yoast SEO – I do use Yoast – BUT only for a few things, to edit the SEO title, if needed, enter in the meta description and designate specific images to be shared on Facebook and Twitter. That’s it. I don’t pay any attention to what Yoast says in regards to my posts SEO or keyword density or grammar/sentence structure. Yoast is very robotic and I think it’s better to write for your readers than for a robot. And yes, you definitely should include your keywords in all the proper places and through out your post, but again, you don’t need a robot to tell you that 😉 And just keep in mind – Yoast does not communicate with Google or search engines, just because Yoast says you optimized your post really well, doesn’t necessarily mean that Google thinks your post is optimized well. And Google is way smarter than Yoast is, just some things to keep in mind.
Hopefully this gives you a better idea of using and installing plugins on your WordPress website.
I’d love to hear what your favorite WordPress plugins are in the comments below!