If you’re building a WordPress site for your business and need to add new features to it, you’ll inevitably need to use plugins. This sounds like a pretty easy task but choosing the right ones for the task isn’t as simple as it seems.
One thing about plugins is that there is a considerable amount to choose from; WordPress.org counts about 60,000 plugins in its official directory, but this isn’t everything. There are other platforms to source them from, including for instance, CodeCanyon, with around 6,000 premium plugins (we do not recommend CodeCanyon, for reasons we will discuss in a future article).
Many plugins from the official directory have premium versions that bring new features to the free ones; it is the case for several of our plugins at WordPress.org. Note that you don’t necessarily need to upgrade to the premium version when using a free plugin. At WP Darko, we have over 100,000 people using our free plugins as we speak (and way over a million downloads).
This is to say that choosing a particular WordPress plugin over another isn’t always an evident task, especially for beginners who haven’t yet tried any of the available options.
WordPress, being as popular as it is, benefits from a vast community of developers. While this is an advantage over other frameworks (there’s probably nothing you can’t achieve with WordPress today), it also opens the door to unmaintained, sluggish, and scammy plugins.
We won’t talk about scams and how to check for abandoned and slow plugins in this article, but we’ll go over several great options that your business can rely on when building your website. We have sorted these plugins by category to make things easier.
Note that we are not using affiliate links; we make recommendations because we believe they will help you.
Every business (or even personal) site will have to collect data from its users at some point, whether it’s in the scope of online shopping, feedback gathering, inquiries about a product or just a simple contact form. There are several plugins that allow you to do just this.
We recommend: Gravity Forms
Gravity Forms is, in our view, one of the best options to create forms on your website. It comes with literally anything you can imagine in a form plugin and several things you won’t expect, too, such as partial entries, dynamic fields, polls, conditional logic, paginated forms, and much more.
This plugin comes with many great add-ons from certified (and other) developers and is backed by a vast community of users helping each other online every day.
Various other plugins can help you create contact forms too. One of the most popular ones is Contact Form 7. While we have used it on countless websites in the past and still value it today, it isn’t the most straightforward to use anymore, and there are more user-friendly options (do give it a try if you want, though).
You could also give WP Forms a try. It is feature-packed and highly intuitive. This one compares with Gravity Forms and has tons of add-ons to help you achieve what you want. A minor downside, in our opinion, and why we do not recommend it as much as other options is that they remind/push you to upgrade to their premium version on every page.
Ninja Forms is another interesting option worth trying.
Search engine optimization is by far one of the most important aspects of running a successful business website. This isn’t unique to WordPress, but the framework benefits from full-featured, ready-to-use solutions for this task. Let’s go over the main ones.
We recommend: Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is our go-to SEO plugin for WordPress; it is super intuitive and easy to get started with. You can find this plugin on the official directory, and it is free to use. They have a premium version that brings new features such as structured data, dead-link checker, third-party integrations and more.
What we love about Yoast SEO is their philosophy, as well as the fact their free version has enough features to be the only SEO tool you’ll ever need for your WordPress website.
AIOSEO is another all-in-one solution that you could try. Note that many ads inside the plugin will try to sell you the premium version (not the case with Yoast SEO).
You may wonder why we even bother talking about premium versions and upsells, and this is because we believe that the first thing a plugin should do for you is “help you achieve what you installed it for”. You can always check out the premium features and decide for yourself if you’d like to upgrade. We personally only upgrade if we’ve been using the plugin for a while and need additional functionalities, not because we were repeatedly prompted to do so.
As you may have noticed, if you’re using any of WP Darko’s premium plugins, we are not big on emails, newsletters and the like. We do not fancy receiving tons of promotional emails ourselves, and for this reason, we’re not sending weekly/monthly communications to our users. Instead, we will reach them if we have something important to tell them (not to sell them).
This being said, many businesses need to send emails to promote their services and communicate with their users, and there’s nothing wrong with that! There is an infinite amount of options available to you if you are, for instance, starting a newsletter. Let’s talk about one (that we have used before).
Note that this one isn’t a plugin; instead, it’s a third/party platform that allows you to manage email marketing campaigns. You will need a plugin to make the connection between your WordPress site and this email service.
We recommend: Mailchimp
Mailchimp has been here forever and is a very reliable email marketing tool. It has all you need to run successful email campaigns. Some great features are the new Creative Assistant, customer journeys, content optimizer, and a lot more.
As said above, Mailchimp isn’t a WordPress plugin, but at some point, you’ll want to gather email addresses from your visitors to be able to communicate with them via Mailchimp. You can achieve this with a plugin like MC4WP (it has over 2 million active users and excellent reviews).
If you don’t know already, SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) is an application used by mail servers to send, receive, or relay outgoing mail between senders and receivers.
Long story short, we are talking about your website’s transactional emails here. Transactional emails include registration emails, password reset emails, purchase receipts, etc. By default, WordPress sends these emails using PHP’s mail() function, which isn’t reliable, and if you ever had complaints about communications ending up in the spam folder, look no further.
An SMTP plugin (along with a plan with a third-party provider) will fix this and increase your emails’ deliverability. These plugins are just connectors, making the bridge between WordPress and the actual SMTP service.
SendInBlue is a well-known multi-feature digital marketing tool that can handle transactional emails. They have a free plan that allows you to send up to 300 emails per day, which is more than enough in most cases (see their pricing page).
SendWP is another option that we recommend because it is the simplest out there. Just install a plugin and purchase a plan (no free plan, unfortunately, see pricing page).
Maintenance mode plugins
When something goes wrong on your production site, and you wish to temporarily disable it to prevent visitors from seeing broken pages, you can use a “maintenance page“.
These plugins are pretty straightforward, and we won’t go into many details here; we recommend having one ready if something happens.
Maintenance and WP Maintenance Mode are simple options. SeedProd is the most popular maintenance plugin in the official WordPress plugin directory. It was one of our go-to tools in the past but has become more complex and is often overkill if you only need to show a temporary page while fixing/working on your website.
Any serious WordPress site owners know that having a solid backup strategy is essential to ensure maximum uptime and be able to react promptly if something doesn’t go as planned.
There are many ways to back up a WordPress site, and we won’t cover them all in this article (there’s a good piece about this over at FalconStack, see this article). We recommend having your hosting provider manage backups and restore for you; it is safer and more reliable.
You can also use a plugin if you are more comfortable with this, and because this article is about plugins, here are a few great options you can use for backing up and restoring your site.
We recommend: UpdraftPlus
Sweepstakes and giveaways are great ways to engage your audience and increase brand awareness. We have not personally run sweepstakes on WordPress-based sites before, but RafflePress seems to be a good option for this.
Make sure you also take a look at Kickofflabs. It isn’t a WordPress plugin but looks simpler than RafflePress to integrate into your website and comes with tons of fantastic features.
Once again, remember that we are not using affiliate links. We only recommend the things we trust or that we deem helpful for you.
Any WordPress website has a search functionality built-in. Although it can be enough in many cases, sometimes you will need to take it to the next level, for instance, if you wish to accomplish one or several of the following things:
- Make custom fields searchable
- Include product attributes
- Search PDF documents
- Include shortcode contents
- And much more
If this is your case, take a look at plugins like SearchWP and Relevanssi. Both these tools will enhance the default WordPress search feature, so there’s little to no configuration required on your end.
Search plugins are often used on big eCommerce stores or magazines with a lot of categories and articles.
Custom code plugins
Although some themes already come with similar features, you will often need to add custom code snippets to your site’s header/footer. If you are familiar with PHP and code in general, you should be able to do this without any issue.
If this is not your case, you can use a plugin like Insert Headers and Footers and easily copy-paste your snippets where you need them.
Announcement bar plugins
These plugins add a notification bar at the top of your website, allowing you to display a message to your visitors, including a button and other content.
At WP Darko, we have Top Bar, one of the most popular announcement bar plugins in the official WordPress directory. In most cases, the free version will be enough; it is not limited and should cover all the basics.
This is a tricky one; translation plugins are known to be a little bit quirky. One of the most popular ones, WPML, isn’t one of the simplest to use, and although we do not recommend against it, we can’t say that it is plug-and-play and that you will have a multilingual site in no time.
Translating your site is not a quick and easy task, and I would suggest taking the time to understand your needs before you decide, plugin-wise.
We’ve used WPML in the past; it would get things done but wasn’t always a pleasure to work with. There are other, more recent options worth looking into. Sometimes they’re a bit limited, sometimes expensive, but do check them out:
- TranslatePress: this is by far the easiest to use. Enter translation mode and start translating everything from the frontend of your website. Although there might be content that’s harder to access for translation than others, we highly recommend this one if you are not familiar with translation plugins in general.
- WeGlot: this one has a quick machine translation feature that leverages leading providers like Microsoft, Google and Yandex. You can then have your team refine this first layer for more accuracy.
- Loco Translate
eCommerce plugins can turn your WordPress site into a fully-fledged online store. There are several plugin options you can look at, some more popular than others; let’s go through them.
The most popular eCommerce plugin for WordPress is WooCommerce; it is maintained by the team behind WordPress.com. WooCommerce has a vast number of extensions that allow you to create anything with it, such as:
- Booking platforms
- Online shops with physical products
- Digital stores (eBook, audio, etc.)
- Dropshipping platforms
- Learning centers
We have used WooCommerce a lot in the past for client work, and we recommend it. It is one of the worldwide leading e-commerce software platforms (2021), with a market share of about 23%.
A great alternative is Easy Digital Downloads. This is what we are currently using for the WP Darko plugin store. It is perfect for digital products thanks to add-ons like Software Licensing, Recurring Payments, etc. They also have Frontend Submissions, which allows you to transform your site into a full-fledged, multi-vendor digital marketplace.
Other alternatives worth checking out are:
Other great WordPress plugins
Please take a look at these useful plugins; they didn’t make it to the list above but are equally worth checking (in no particular order).
- ShareThis: share buttons for the most popular social networks
- WordFence Security: full-featured security plugin for WordPress including malware scanning and firewall
- Really Simple SSL: great plugin if you have issues with insecure content on an SSL encrypted site
- Post Duplicator: this is one of our go-to plugins and the most efficient way to duplicate any content in one click
- Redirection: by far the simplest way to set up redirection on your WordPress site; all you need is a source and a destination URL
- Better Search Replace: the easiest way to find and replace entries in your database, helpful when migrating a website (to replace all URLs)
More plugins by us (WP Darko)
Here are some more plugins from WP Darko that you might find useful, make sure to try them as well:
- Responsive Pricing Table: this plugin allows you to create and display your pricing table anywhere on your site with a simple shortcode
- Responsive Tabs: create tabbed content for your website and show it anywhere on your site
- Team Members: our best-seller, this plugin allows you to create teams and display them on the frontend
This concludes our first article on the WP Darko blog! Hope you enjoyed, stay tuned for more content just like this.