Website design and build

How to supercharge your website

How to supercharge your website (15 WordPress plugin ideas)

Supercharging your website is all about extending and maximizing its functionality. And although some website building platforms will endeavour to give you everything you might need upfront, others don’t even try to. But either way, a little knowledge can help you to power-up your site whatever your situation. All you need to know is what might be possible and how to maximise whatever functionality you have. And for platforms like WordPress (and any that allow for a greater flexibility and choice) we will need to step into the realm of WordPress plugins.

Let’s plug in

Depending on whether you are just beginning your web-building journey (and what your web-building platform is) you might have come across the term plugin. Rather like the term widget – it can sound cute. But it can instill a sense of fear and confusion. In essence, plugins can be thought of as little apps. They are little apps that you can add-on (or plug-in) to your existing website to give it greater functionality. Although all web-building platforms will come with the basics for building a website, it’s just a fact of life that there will be times when a little something more wouldn’t go amiss. And this is where plugins can come in.

Need a booking calendar for your site? Then plug-in a calendar booking app. Need to back your work up should things go wrong? Then plug-in a backup and restoration app. Need to speed up your site so it doesn’t take forever to load? Then plug-in an optimizer app. The possibilities are endless. 

Although plugins are a bit like accessorizing in fashion, they can be extremely practical too. If you aren’t in a position to tackle coding or tweak things via a mark-up language, but wonder if more could be done with your website – the answer is a resounding YES! with plugins.

Plugin pros and cons

However, some web-building platforms won’t give you the option for plugins. Instead, they will endeavour to meet all your needs as is. And this can be really handy when you have plenty of other things to think about. But it does mean that you will be at the mercy of somebody else’s decision. Even if plug-ins aren’t an option for you, by understanding why others might incorporate them it can help you boost what you do have with greater intention. 

Decisions decisions decisions

For more open-source platforms (where anybody with coding skills can contribute) the problems are different. Depending on the size of the community and the technical expertise within it, the number and range of plugins can be limited but costly. For more expansive platforms like WordPress – the options can feel overwhelmingly limitless. And although it can be possible to feel lost in a myriad of choices – it does mean that you can supercharge you site specifically and often for free. With a freemium business model, only the pro-versions have a cost. And if you are willing to keep one finger on the pulse you can have the latest functionality typically in just a few clicks. But like accessorizing in fashion – plugin codes can clash, slow things down and make the back-end of your site messy. So despite the treasure-chest of possibilities, it’s wise not to be too greedy. 

Constant change

Once you have installed and activated your plugins, an unanticipated issue that can crop up is maintenance. Depending on your platform you might need to update your plugins every few days. But that will keep your site secure to the latest hacking tricks – which is always a plus in this day and age. Updating just requires a button press, but if you have a lot, it can become a hassle.

Our capsule wardrobe of plugins

In order to combat the multitude of possibilities, we have developed our capsule wardrobe of plugins. Since we are WordPress pros who work with organisations where finances are often limited, the WordPress plugins listed here are all free. And do take this article as more of a guide than a definitive exposition. After all, the world of plugins is constantly evolving and changing, and the crazy world of technology doesn’t ever stop.

If you have not built a site on WordPress before, you might be unnerved to find in the beginning that WordPress automatically installs a few plugins on your behalf. Some of these will be theme specific and often they are very handy. You might find nestled in your listings plugins like Jetpack by WordPress.com (by Automattic), Akismet Anti-Spam (by Automattic), Orbit Fox Companion (by Themeisle) and Page Builder by SiteOrigin (by SiteOrigin) but don’t worry. You will always be free to deactivate and delete any plugin. And it’s no problem adding to your collection either.

First checks

Whatever you go for, always check how many active installations a plugin has because its popularity is a decent indicator of its reliability. Check its rating for assessing its reliability. And check for when it was last updated to access its relevance and security. 

Your most important needs

For us, our plugin collection must address our most important needs: Boosting our sites functionality, its security and safety, its efficiency (aka optimisation), its marketing capabilities (SEO, contact-ability and social media connection) and checking its performance. So here’s our list of 13 plugins that outline issues that every website builder ought to consider.

Plugins 1 & 2: Boosting website functionality

In WordPress there is a vast array of plugins that can boost your sites functionality from lightboxes (the groovy ability to display images and videos by magnifying them while dimming the rest of the page), to incorporating icons (perhaps in your menu), to ones that allow you to embed widgets (the predefined spaces where you can place more content). Perhaps the most loved plugin we have at mitsgriffin.com is Elementor (by Elementor.com).

Elementor is a free page-builder plugin which allows non-techies to create and edit web-pages without any coding knowledge and with minimal training. Despite giving technophobes the possibility to later take control and edit site content, it flexible and powerful enough that creatives can build almost anything.

A legal requirement for almost all sites is to have a cookie notice warning. There are many plugins that help with this, but one that’s simple and fast to setup is Cookie notice (by dFactory). Just install and activate and it’s ready to go.

Plugins 3 & 4: Boosting Security and safety

Another extremely important area of website development is security – both for users and site creators. To protect users, sites should have SSL certification where information is encrypted.

For creators there are numerous security plugins. WPS Hide Login (by By WPServeur, NicolasKulka, tabrisrp) deters hackers (including bots) from accessing into your WordPress account. While plugins like iThemes Security (by iThemes), Wordfence (by Wordfence) and Shield (by One Dollar Plugin) offer comprehensive site security.

Another issue to factor in is keeping safe. And when things do go wrong it’s important that you can restore your site fast. UpdraftPlus (by UpdraftPlus.Com, DavidAnderson) is a plugin that enables you to systematically and simply backup your site.

Plugins 5 & 6: Boosting Optimisation

Optimisation is all about maximizing your sites efficiency and speed. There are so many optimising plugins from broken-link checkers to ones that optimise caching (where data is stored for faster access). From database optimisation to image compression. Recommended plugins include WP Super Cache or WP Fastest Cache and WP-Optimize. Or WP Sweep for cleaning up your database (although most databases are pretty tidy and you won’t want to mess with them too much). 

If you have invested in hosting with Site Ground, they automatically provide super caching, https activation and site security that can be activated through the plugin SG Optimizer (by Site Ground).

Despite the fact that your sites speed will depend heavily on your hosting package, you can help speed up your page load times with image compression. A great plugin that helps to compress all sites images is Smush (by WPMU DEV).

And because plugins themselves can slow your site down, there’s even a plugin to check plugins called P3 Plugin Performance Profiler (by GoDaddy.com). But this is a pretty old not-updated plugin. Old out of date plugins can be risky!!

Plugins 7 & 8: Boosting your SEO marketing capabilities

In terms of marketing, one of the most important aspect to consider is your search engine optimisation (SEO) which deals with how search engines like Google list your site in searches. Crucial for being found, there are numerous things that can be done to boost your SEO (check our SEO blog). 

Perhaps one of the most important plugins you could ever activate to help you in this, is the free plugin Yoast SEO (by Team Yoast). Brilliant for setting keywords, tags, meta-descriptions and cornerstone pages. Yoast is brilliant too for checking content readability and for working behind the scenes with sitemaps to help search engines better index your site.

And although a somewhat side issue, broken pages are an SEO hazard too and naturally become more and more likely as a site develops and expands. 

Through various plugins, you design the look of your 404 “error page” or redirect a missing page (through the 301 redirect) to an alternative – but working – page. A clever plugin for automatically redirecting 404s to the next most likely help (or indeed the actual page renamed) is 404 Solution (by Aaron J).

Plugins 9-11: Boosting your contact-ability

Another important feature of any site is your call to action (CTA). Through calls to action a clear path is made for people to get directly in touch with you. Here we enter the realm of contact forms, opt-ins, subscriptions, newsletters and the potential for email capture and list building. A notable plugin that captures people’s attention once they have left your site but are still on a desktop is OneSignal (by OneSignal) which sends out notifications of your latest happenings (e.g. latest blog post released) to people’s desktops and a trusted oldie for incorporating an effective but fail-safe contact form is Contact form 7 (by Takayuki Miyoshi). More importantly, for generating contact and opt-in forms there are plugins like Everest Forms (by WPEverest), Icegram (by Icegram) and Sumo (by SumoMe). These plugins can enable for marketing opt-ins, email list building and for subscriptions. 

For collecting and emailing subscribers, Email Subscribers & Newsletters (by Icegram) is moderately intuitive and works together with Rainmaker (by Icegram) so you to tweak and create multiple forms. And along with GDPR (by Trew Knowledge) makes all your forms and opt-ins GDPR compliant.

Plugins 12-14: Boosting your social media connections

In conjunction with SEO and email list building, another huge marketing arena that mustn’t be overlooked is social media. Links to (and interactions with) your social media platforms are crucial in this day and age for developing your social proof. Although many page builders will incorporate buttons and icons that will link your site to social media, there is a vast array of additional plugin possibilities that you can harness too. From snazzy feeds and like-box displays, to social media widgets and live chat capabilities. Just for fun (because they are not at all crucial) are a few social media plugins that we have liked: Feed & LikeBox For Facebook (by Weblizar), Weblizar Twitter Widget (by Weblizar) and Instagram Feed (by Smash Balloon). 

Plugin 15: Checking your sites performance

Finally, once you have your website built, there are plugins that enable you to analyse your sites overall performance straight from your dashboard by connecting directly to Google Analytics. You will need to register with Google Analytics first and although you can always access your analytics and statistics directly from Google if you prefer, analytic plugins are fun.

Plugins like Google Analytics for WordPress (by MonsterInsights), or Goggle Analytics dashboard for WP: GADWP – which is being renamed to ExactMetrics (by ExactMetrics team) allow you to view your website statistics from your dashboard every time you log in. Helpful in avoiding any “out of sight, out of mind” tendencies we might have.

For when a little more is required

For non-profits: Inspiring online donations

For all the organisations out there that would like to incorporate donations via their website – a plugin worth considering is Give (by WordImpress). Despite having a pro version, the free version is great if you don’t mind setting up a PayPal account and having contributors give that way.

 

A little techie cheekiness: Child themes and pixels

Although our posts are written with non-techies in mind, we can’t help but be a little cheeky. Here are a couple of plugins that are a little more technical for anybody who is venturing a little deeper. If you are able to customize website code and style sheets (tweaking HTLM, CSS or JavaScript) you can harness child themes. A child theme, when created, inherits the functionality and features of your original theme – the parent theme. But with a child theme you can modify things without the theme losing its ability to update later. In the past, updating  your theme meant that some tweaks would be forever lost. But updating code is important because it allows for your site to remain current and hacker-proof. A plugin that we like at mitsgriffin.com that helps us with child themes is Child theme configurator (by Lilaea Media).

And because Facebook dominates social media, incorporating your Facebook pixel (tracking) from your Facebook Page to your website can be brilliant. And brilliant not just for your analytics but for your re-marketing campaigns too. A simple way to incorporate any pixel code is with the plugin Head, Footer and Post Injections (by Stefano Lissa). Just add your tracking code to your header and footer sections and the job is done.

Supercharging your website is all about extending and maximising its functionality. We hope the plugins and ideas listed here might help you supercharge yours. 

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