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So, here’s the dealio. It’s easy to go crazy when it comes to WordPress Plugins — you can make your site do cartwheels and expand its functionality to the moon and who doesn’t want that?
The problem is, not all plugins are well-coded (even the ones you pay $ for as I found out the hard way) and they can slow your site down — which hurts you in search and with conversions. Plus, they can open you up to security vulnerabilities and nightmarish plugin conflicts that can break your site and ugh, who needs that?
A great rule of thumb is to only install quality plugins and keep those to the bare minimum. Seriously. Bare.
Anything that “calls” to a third party site are plugins I try to avoid… for example, I log in to Google Analytics directly because you just don’t need a plugin for that and they can really slow your site down. (If you aren’t using Google Analytics, this definitely qualifies as a “ride or die” tool for me, I walk through exactly how I use it in this mini-course.)
There’s a popular plugin for Pinterest (the “pin it” button) that was slowing my site down too, and while I really loved it, I removed that too. Really, it’s about evaluating whether that plugin is helping you more than hurting you.
That said, here are a few plugins that legitimately help me to grow my blog and business…
1. RankMath (Free)
RankMath is an onsite SEO tool that I use instead of the ubiquitously popular YoastSEO. I made the switch (which was so easy to do it was insane) because the criteria to get a “green light” is much harder and you can optimize for multiple keywords without needing to upgrade like with Yoast.
When you’re inside your WP dashboard, RankMath gives you a score out of 100 for all your posts to make it easy to see which ones need a bit of TLC at a glance.
This particular post is one that I wrote with the intention of going after a specific keyword by making it a pillar post (read more about the different types of posts here).
The results so far are pretty good! It’s a fairly “young” post but it’s ranking at #2… I just missed that snippet, dang it, but not a bad result I’d say. 🙂
Of course, SEO tools don’t guarantee your content will rank even if you get that green light, but it doesn’t hurt to have a double check in case you miss something important, and it’s nice to have an easy way to optimize for snippets and customize your meta descriptions and titles and so forth.
2. Thrive Leads ($67 one-time fee)
This is the one that I’d take to a deserted island with me if I could only choose one. My list-building efforts grew exponentially after I started using it.
Because it makes it easy for me to create different types of forms and connect them with my email service provider and I’ve found that being FAST and nimble in creating highly-relevant content upgrades for posts is what works best for me.
Plus, every single day I get an analytics report right in my dashboard to see how many people converted, where they came from, and which forms are converting best.
For example… I can test different lead magnets to see which one people like best. Here, I tested a “take this post with you” lead magnet versus a planner… the planner won so I used that one going forward.
And, more advanced reporting like exactly where your leads are coming from over time which I think is SO important to know because it helps you focus your efforts in the right direction.
For example, my top referrer in terms of signups is Google, which I would have guessed was Pinterest (which comes in at #2). That tells me to keep focusing on SEO because it’s working.
I mean, the forms are beautiful, but the data is even lovelier. Without this information I’d still be drip-drip-dripping a couple of people into my list every day. My list growth rate is now 10x what it once was. (Thrive leads helped, but there was a lot of other work involved in that of course.)
One of the coolest features is a real time-saver — you can set up a form and have it automatically display within a specific post category which, once you have quite a lot of content in the can, can save HOURS of tedious manual updates when you change or add a new lead magnet.
Plus, the fact that it’s a one-time fee makes it one of my favorite power tools of all time and I now recommend it to all of my friends and clients.
Check out Thrive Leads
3. Social Warfare ($29/year)
Social Warfare is a social sharing plugin that makes it easy for you to optimise the information that gets shared on different social media platforms — all of which (UGH) have different optimal text description and image formats.
Once the go-to social sharing darling of the blogosphere, Social Warfare suffered a bit of drama a while back because they were hacked and their customers were made vulnerable. Many people jumped ship in a panic and migrated over to Social Pug.
But here’s the thing. The team over at Warfare Plugins responded with a patch within hours and they worked diligently to protect their customers in the most commendable way.
That, to me, is what matters. Shit happens (no matter which tool you use) and I think people are fooling themselves if they think any platform will never be vulnerable. I’ve been around the web long enough to know that it’s how the development team responds that matters.
Since then, Social Warfare has had zero glitches and I’m really happy I didn’t switch.
Ultimately, having a premium social sharing tool is a must… there’s no point in bothering with tools that make you jump through hoops to make your content optimised for all the different platforms. For me, $29 bucks a year saves me HOURS of monkeying around with tech and that makes it 100% worth it.
I love that it makes it easy for me to customize my posts for social sharing on Pinterest, Facebook/LinkedIn and Twitter, which all have different rules for text description length and image sizes… but hey, the sharing icons are cute and you can change the colors to match your site and these are important things in life. 😉
Check out Social Warfare.
4. WP Last Modified Info (Free)
This one was kind of a game-changer for me and while I can’t prove this, I’m pretty certain it’s helped me with my click-through rates in search.
I like to think that I create a lot of evergreen content, so prior to installing this plugin I didn’t display dates at all. But I listened to a lot of conversations about whether to use dates or not in my Facebook blogging groups and the consensus seemed to be,
“If I don’t see dates, I bounce, I just don’t trust it.”
Because I make it a habit to update my content to keep it fresh and relevant, this plugin was the perfect answer for me — rather than displaying the original post date, it displays the “last date modified” as the name implies.
Here’s my theory on this. When your blog post appears in SERP (search engine results page), there’s only so much information you can give the searcher to inspire them to CLICK YOUR LINK instead of the others around it.
- Headlines are crucial, we all know that.
- Meta descriptions should not be treated like an afterthought either (this is where you SELL that link — RankMath will make that easy for you).
- The URL can make a difference — a short URL with the focus keyword is best, e.g.: /branding-factors versus /10-branding-factors-to-build-a-successful-brand.
- But what most people forget about is the date. Comparing my result with the one just beneath it, okay I have one more factor indicated in the title (LOL), but the DATE tells the searcher which piece of content is freshest.
You can be ranking lower on the page than another result and get more clicks and ultimately, that’s what matters. So anything you can do to make your search listing more appealing, I say — DO IT.
Check out WP Last Modified Info
5. Countdown Dynamite ($9)
Now, I have to be totally honest here — the idea of putting a countdown timer on sales pages wasn’t that appealing to me at first. I worried that it would come across as cheesy. But…
As much as I’d love to create free content and never ask for a sale in return, I have to monetise my content… otherwise I’d have no other choice but to just stop making it. The time I spend creating it is time I’m not spending billing clients. So…
The “limited time offer” is a strategy I knew worked for other people so I decided to test it and it now brings in a consistent stream of passive income I can count on.
Every week I get a pay check from small “tripwire” offers ranging from $4-$25. (You can learn exactly how I do it here if you’re interested.) As you can see, I’m not getting rich from this (YET!), but it’s 100% passive — once it’s set up you can forget it. If I can make a few extra grand per year while I sleep hey, I’ll take that.
By displaying a countdown clock on a special offer — usually on a thank-you page after somebody subscribes — they’re provided with a “one time offer” that’s available for a limited time — usually 20 minutes but sometimes more depending on what it is. (If it’s longer than 20 minutes, I send a reminder in the welcome email that the clock is ticking.)
This plugin makes it easy to do and it’s paid for itself many times over. It’s affordable and effective and creates LEGITIMATE scarcity… which I think is key. I don’t like the idea of putting a countdown timer on something that doesn’t actually expire the page — that just feels deceptive.
The power of Countdown Dynamite is that it redirects the user once the timer runs out and the limited time offer becomes unavailable.
I’ve used the much more expensive Thrive Ultimatum plugin for the same purpose, but I find myself going back to Countdown Dynamite because it’s so simple to use, and Thrive Ultimatum has a minimum counter of 24 hours.
With Countdown Dynamite, you can set the timer for anything you want – even 5 minutes — which makes it ideal for those “impulse buy” pages with very low-cost offers.
I reserve Thrive Ultimatum (which is admittedly more elegant looking in its design) for things like flash sales, Black Friday and other special promotions that go on for more than one day. It’s $97 bucks but it’s a one-time fee and it’s definitely paid for itself too.
It displays beautiful ribbons on the top or bottom of the page with the countdown timer… I like having both in my arsenal, one for “quick and dirty” one time offers and one for bigger campaigns where the design and experience of the sales page count.
6. WP Rocket ($49)
You probably already know that site speed matters a LOT. You’ll lose nearly 1/2 of your audience if your site is loading more than just a few seconds, yikes.
This is one of the more unpleasant facets of owning a website, but caching plugins can make it easier. I’d tried just about every free tool out there and while I know they do work well for some sites, they didn’t for mine.. and many of them either created unpleasant plugin conflicts or broke my site entirely. (I think a lot of that depends on which theme you’re using, I happen to use Divi.)
WP Rocket kept coming up in conversation in my blogging groups and I was frankly, fed up with spending SO MUCH TIME trying to get my site speed down, and I’m glad I splurged… it not only helped to improve performance, but I had zero struggles setting it all up — it was very intuitive and created zero conflicts.
Image optimisation is a huge part of getting the site speed down, and they partner with Imagify which will compress your images (that service is an extra fee which is actually great, you may prefer ShortPixel or something else) — you can manage all of that within the WP Rocket dashboard…
Check out WP Rocket
7. Ultimate Add Ons for Gutenberg (Free)
As a WordPress user of many (*cough* many) years, it took me some time to warm up to Gutenberg and to get used to it. But once I did, I was psyched to discover how much it can do to make blog posts more visually interesting — thus, creating a better user experience which only leads to good things in terms of SEO and conversions.
(Even though I use Divi and I know a lot of bloggers do, I never EVER use the visual builder for blog posts… it creates unnecessary code bloat and makes it difficult to migrate your content should you ever want to switch themes.)
The Ultimate Add Ons for Gutenberg extends the layout ability within Gutenberg to add things like…
Call to action buttons
Great for things like product review and affiliate posts…
Table of Contents
You can see this in action at the top of this post. It not only helps with user experience if your posts are long, it helps you to stay organised in how you’re outlining your post.
I’m convinced it even helps with SEO, it helped me win this rich snippet…
I’m not a huge fan of things that move automatically (it’s distracting for the user) but I can see where this might come in handy…
“Related posts” plugins can really slow your site down and don’t do a great job curating the right content to get people clicking through, I typically do this manually but Post Carousels are a great option for displaying other content by category and it gives a bit of visual “pop”…
|Tables Make Certain Posts…||Easier to Comprehend…||Especially great for Comparison Reviews|
Okay you get the point, I could be here all day. 😂 There are a ton more features that really help you make your content more visual which I’m really trying HARD to do… it takes a few extra steps, but it makes people stay longer on the page and that leads to many good things.
8. UpDraft Plus (Free)
Updraft Plus is a backup utility that will back your WordPress site up and send it to the cloud (or your email) automatically. Peace of mind for free? I’ll take it. I used to pay for backup services but the free version of UpDraft its just as good. Yay free.
9. Pretty Links (Free)
This was one of those plugins I kept hearing buzz about but kept saying “Naaaahh, I don’t need that.”
But oh no my friend, I was wrong… if you’re doing any kind of affiliate marketing you NEED Pretty Links. I don’t have a ton of affiliate partnerships, but the ones I do love I tend to recommend in many different pieces of content.
Rather than keeping track of them all in a spreadsheet (Ugh), I use Pretty Links right in the WP dashboard to manage everything easy peasy. Pretty links lets you set them and forget them, and you can search for them within the WordPress editor while you’re making your links.
Plus, as the name implies, the URLs look prettier than those ugly affiliate links. And because I’m a geek about data, I love that it lets you see which links people are clicking on from the dashboard.
Check out Pretty Links
10. Duplicate Post (Free)
I have to mention this one here because it really bugs the ever-lovin’ crap out of me that this feature doesn’t come native to WordPress.
Duplicate Post allows you to clone a page you’ve designed so you don’t have to recreate the wheel and build it from scratch. This works great for things like marketing pages, landing pages, one time offer pages and so on.
It’s a HUGE time saver and I use it not only on my site, but every site I design for clients.
Check out Duplicate Post
So, what do you think?
Are you using any of these plugins? Any that you consider to be “ride or die” that I’ve missed? Any that are new to you that you want to check out? Let me know in comments!
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.